Hannah – Chapter 33 – Where Is He?

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Hannah smoothed her hair frowning at her reflection in the mirror. Her stomach churned despite her best efforts to appear relaxed. Where was he? She glanced over at the window. Heart leaping into her throat as headlights turned towards their house and drove past.

“Relax” Eddie advised her “he’ll be here.”

“I know” she gave him a stiff smile that did nothing to relieve her butterflies. What if he changed his mind? What if he wasn’t coming? What if he had gotten arrested? What if the investigation into Dexter’s disappearance uncovered his hacking forays? What if he was languishing inside some prison somewhere?

“Hannah” Rory’s voice barely broke through the haze of her mind. She looked up blinking several times “Hannah what’s wrong?”

“I” she shook her head “nothing.” She clasped her hands together in her lap.

“Rory how about we watch a movie while we wait” Eddie suggested giving his daughter a reassuring smile. “He’ll come. I know he will.”

“Thanks Daddy” Hannah blinked back tears pushing aside her growing fear that Donovan wasn’t coming.

“If he doesn’t come I’ll personally kick his ass” Rory promised. Hannah knew by his tone he was in earnest. It wasn’t an idle threat or joke.

Several hours later Eddie set a tray of cheese and crackers on her dresser. “Sweetie you should try to eat something.”

She pulled her knees up to her chest “he didn’t come.” The devastation in her voice was all Eddie needed to hear for him to pull his daughter into his arms.

“I’m sorry sweetie” he whispered rubbing her back like he had when she was little and had awakened in the middle of the night from a nightmare.

“He promised he’d come” she cried sobbing onto his shoulder “he didn’t even call.”

Cradling her he looked up as a soft click from the door opening announced Rory’s presence as he walked into the room. His face was grim. Green eyes sizzling with anger.

“Looks like I’ll be kicking some ass after all” he grumbled as he walked over to his daughter. He stroked her soft blond hair “I’m sorry sweetie” he murmured softly wishing there was something he could do.

***

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The sound of Hannah’s phone cut into her sobbing. “Daddy I don’t want to talk to him.” She clung tighter to Eddie burying her face in his shoulder.

“You don’t have to” Rory assured her taking her phone. “Hello” he barked brusquely into it. Silence followed his terse greeting. He turned to look at his daughter before he walked a few paces away. “No I’m sorry Mrs Glenn he isn’t here.”

“What?” Hannah lifted her head up “why does she think he’s here?” She shifted in Eddie’s arms following Rory’s every move listening intently.

“Yes Mrs Glenn I let you know the moment he arrives.” Rory stared at the phone in his hand for a moment before turning to face his daughter and husband. “Donovan left early this morning. His mother expected him to be here already.”

“It doesn’t take this long to get here from Riverview” Hannah protested.

“I know sweetie” Rory came and knelt in front of her bed. “He called his mom six hours ago when he stopped for gas in Simm City.”

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Her eyes grew large “that’s only an hour away” she struggled to sit up. “He should have been here hours ago.” Looking from one concerned face to the other she felt her world begin to crumble. “Where is he? Why isn’t he here? Why hasn’t he called? What if something bad happened?”

Rory pulled his husband and daughter close. “I’ll find him” he assured both of them with a confidence he didn’t feel. He watched as both nodded accepting his assurance without question. He kissed each of them on the forehead before he stood. Walking towards the door he paused to glance back. Both sets of eyes were watching him with identical expressions of anxiety and hope.

Before he could open the door Eddie’s voice stopped him “be careful” was all he said.

“I will babe” he smiled briefly hoping to instill a sense of calm and confidence. “I’ll find him” he looked over at Hannah “I promise.”

“Dad” she called as he opened the door “Tell him I…I love him.”

He gave her a lopsided grin “I will sweetie. I will.” He said it with resignation. His little had gone and grown up on him. As much as he hated it he and Eddie had been replaced by someone new. His chest felt heavy with the knowledge. He looked at Eddie. His soft brown eyes reflected the same realization. Rory knew Eddie had known it for a while he had fought it wanting to keep his little girl a while longer. When Hannah had informed them that this boy was coming to meet them Rory had felt he was losing his daughter now he was sure of it. All the texts and phone calls while she was away at school. All the times she mentioned his name. Rory hadn’t wanted to believe it. “I’ll find him” he mumbled to himself. He was losing his daughter but he wouldn’t stand back and do nothing to find the boy his daughter loved. Although he still reserved the right to kick the boy’s ass if the need ever arose.

***

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Donovan kicked the offending tire. Flat as a pancake. He must have picked up some glass or a nail somewhere. He had checked the air pressure before he leaving that morning just like had checked the oil. He knew he should call Hannah to let her know what happened so that she didn’t worry. Normally a flat tire wouldn’t be a big deal. He could change a tire in less than ten minutes. The problem was it had been raining buckets and the dirt road he was on was going to be soft. He’d have to be careful that the jack didn’t slip in the mud unbalancing the car while he was changing the tire.

Sitting in his car he grimaced as water from his hair and clothes soaked into the car’s interior. He reached for his phone that he had tossed carelessly into the passenger seat. “Shit” he muttered as he found he had no signal. He got out of the car and stood in the pouring rain trying in vain to find a signal. In the back of his mind he kept thinking of that stupid commercial of the guy asking “can you hear me now?”

As thunder rolled over his head he tossed the useless phone into his car deciding to fix the fat before the storm got any worse. His feet squished in his shoes as the soft dirt sucked at his feet. He loosened the nuts before he started to jack up the car.

He was almost done. He was fitting the spare onto the wheel when the jack shifted. The car started to slide towards the ditch. He tried to jump out-of-the-way but the mud and rain hampered him. He fell heavily onto his back. His head hit something hard. Then everything went dark.

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The first thing he noticed when he opened his eyes was the it was dark and the rain had stopped. How long had he lain there unconscious? He was wet, cold and uncomfortable. He tried to sit up. Pain shot through his leg and up his spine and into his head. His vision dimmed to narrow pin pricks. He couldn’t move his leg. It was pinned beneath the spare tire that was under the car. Waves of nausea swept through him as his body broke out in a cold sweat. Shock he guessed. Gritting his teeth to keep from screaming in agony.

He closed his eyes attempting to block out the pain. He tried to still the fears swirling around inside his brain. The what if scenarios that had him imagining he’d have to hack off his foot to keep from starving to death. Where was his handy-dandy pocket knife when he needed it? How long had he been on this back road? Two, three hours? In all that time he hadn’t seen one person drive by. He’d never be seen again. Hannah would think he stood her up. His hands balled into helpless fists as tears ran down his cheeks.

Taking a deep breath he tried to calm himself down. He should have called Hannah at the gas station instead of his mom. At the time he was thinking of the surprised delight he’d see in Hannah’s eyes when he arrived early. He took this stupid back road in the hopes he could cut off time on his journey. He hadn’t counted on it starting to rain thirty miles after he turned on it. He should have stayed on the main roads. He kept berating himself until he passed out a second time.

***

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Rory sat in his are hands drumming on the steering wheel. If he were a young nineteen year old again which way would he have gone from Simm City? The back roads he thought. An opportunity to go fast without all the traffic. They only problem with that idea was the road turned to dirt thirty miles out of Simm City. Someone from out of the area wouldn’t know it.

Making up his mind Rory turned without hesitation down that road. He could always try the more common routes later if this didn’t pan out. The fact that the boy hadn’t called or shown up only confirmed he was down this road somewhere. More than likely he had car trouble and only farmers tended to use that road meant no one would find him till morning. The road was sloppy after the rain and Rory fought to keep his car straight as he crawled down it.

Rory squinted into the darkness. There was something a little ways ahead that his headlights were just bouncing off of. It might be the car he was looking for. He stopped in the middle of the road not risking getting stuck pulling over to the shoulder where the road was softer. The car was empty except for a phone left behind on the passenger seat. Frowning Rory wondered why anyone would leave their phone behind.

Walking around the front of the car he found the reason. The car had toppled to the side, sliding part way into the ditch. A young man lay beside it in the long grass. Rory knelt beside him checking for a pulse. Finding a pulse he sat back on his heels relieved inspecting the car. From the angle of the car and the missing tire he surmised the kid had attempted to change a tire and the jack had moved in the unsteady soil.

Checking on the unconscious boy again before running back to his car. He fetched a tow rope and his jack. He would need to use his own car to keep the other one from sliding further into the ditch and harming the boy more. It was going to be a risky move but one he had to take to free the boys foot.

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After that Rory blocked all concerns for the boy from his mind. Concentrating instead on what needed to be done. It took several minutes for him to find a secure enough spot to set up his jack. He checked on the boy again to find the boy’s light blue eyes staring up at him. “Looks like you could use a little help” he smiled down at him.

“Yeah maybe a little” Donovan agreed. Rory chuckled a little at the boy’s brevity. “Do you think you can wiggle out from beneath if I manage to raise the car enough to free your foot?”

Donovan nodded pulling himself up to sitting position. Rory put a hand to steady the boy when he swayed losing all color in his face. “I’m ok” Donovan insisted breathing heavy.

Rory got up to check his tow rope. He hoped the rope would hold long enough to keep the car from sliding. It was a risk to use his car as an anchor for the other car but there was little else he could think of that might work better. Going back into town wasn’t an option. It would mean leaving the boy alone to suffer more and running the risk of him losing his foot altogether. Shaking his head to deflect the bleak thoughts he moved back to the boys car. He started to slowly jack up the car keeping a wary eye out for the slightest movement. It wouldn’t do any of them any good if he too wound up pinned beneath the car with the boy. He didn’t relish the thought of calling the kids mother either if something went wrong…

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“Shit” he mumbled as he felt the jack shift. Without turning to look he yelled “are you out yet?”

“Almost” Donovan grunted “just a little bit more.”

Rory nodded electing not to tell the kid how precarious the situation was. He either got out or he didn’t there was no going back now. “Alright” he grunted hoping the jack held a little longer.

Donovan moved as soon as the pressure eased on his foot. He moved as quickly as he could to drag himself away from the path of the car if it slid further. The next thing he knew two strong arms were pulling him to safety. “What about your car?” he asked when Rory dropped in the mud.

“There’s a few dents and scratches” Rory told “but the tow rope held long enough to get you out.” He nodded towards the kids car “you do however owe me a new jack,” he added causing them both to laugh.

***

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Donovan woke up to the sound of someone moaning. It took him another moment to realize that someone was him. He blinked at the stark white of the room. The pain in his leg was better than it had been wedged beneath his car. Someone had stopped to help him. He closed his eyes, heading sinking into his pillow. This was not how he imagined spending his vacation.

The door opened eliciting a groan from him. He expected his visitor to be another nurse come to check his blood pressure or IV drip like they had done all night long waking him up each time. How did they expect anyone to rest when all they did was disturb them?

“You’re awake?” a familiar voice said above him.

Smiling he opened his eyes to find a pair of green eyes looking down at him. “Who can sleep?” he asked.

“Are you in pain?” she asked a frown marring the beauty of her face.

“What? No” he shook his head “it was a bad joke.”

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“I can get the nurse” she offered worry in her eyes.

“I’m fine,” he repeated “all I need is you.”

“That’s cheesy” she laughed at him moving to sit on the edge of the bed “I was really worried about you.”

“I bet you thought I wasn’t coming” he smirked up at her.

“Well the thought did cross my mind” Hannah smiled down at him “then your mom called looking for you.” Her eyes filled with tears “I was never more scared thinking you were hurt and needed help.”

“You called the hospital looking for me?” he asked taking her hand and giving it a little squeeze. “I’m flattered you thought so much of me to go through all that trouble.”

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She raised an eyebrow at him “don’t be ridiculous. My dad went looking for you. He’s the one who found you and brought you here.”

Stunned he laid back on his pillow “how did he know to look for me on that road?”

“I don’t know” Hannah she shook her head “you’ll have to ask him but I’m glad he though.”

“So am I” Donovan agreed “I owe him my life.”

“Jack you owe him a jack” she grinned impishly at him.

He pulled her down to him “have I told you how much I love you lately?”

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“Not today” she shook her head.

“Well….I do” he held her face between his hands before moving to kiss her.

Breaking the kiss she sighed gazing into his eyes “I love you so much. If you ever scare me like this again I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Never again” he promised wrapping his arms around her.

“Good because you know I can right?” she teased.

“Yeah I’ve seen in you in action” he grinned “now shut up and kiss me.”

Chapter 32 – Missing You /

Hannah – Chapter 32 – Missing You

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Ryan stifled his instant irritation at having his baby sister follow him around the house like a lost puppy. Every time he moved he stumbled into her. “Why don’t you go outside and play?” he asked.

“Will you come with me?” she asked eagerly tugging on his arm.

“Not right now” he tried to shove her towards the door.

“Just go outside with her” Trent suggested “she’s missed you.”

“Fine” he groaned.

“If you don’t want to, don’t bother” his sister cried running to her room. A moment later her door banged shut.

“Ryan would it have killed you to spend a little bit of your time with your sister?” Gayle asked.

“I was….” he looked from one parent to the next. Their disapproving, disappointed looks speaking volumes. “I was waiting for a text from Charity,” he mumbled looking down.

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“Charity would understand you needing to spend time with your family” Gayle pointed out. Crossing her arms she leaned on the wall “honestly Ryan you’ve barely said two words to any of us since you’ve been home.”

“She’s a pest” he complained.

“She’s your sister” Trent asserted “she may seem like a pest now but you’d miss her if something ever happened to her.”

“Yeah I know” he rolled his eyes “I don’t need a lecture. It’s just….why did you have to wait so long to have her.”

“It wasn’t by choice” Gayle said averting her eyes.

“Or lack of trying” Trent continued getting up to put is arms around his wife offering what comfort he could.

“I wanted a large family” Gayle explained as tears shimmered in her eyes “You came so easily soon after we were married.”

“We assumed it would be just as easy next time around” Trent squeezed her shoulder “we were wrong.”

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“I had almost given up hope when we finally had Faith” Gayle gave her husband a grateful look.

Ryan looked down at his phone smiling as a text came through from Charity. He felt his parents disapproving frown as he responded back. Looking up he demanded “what?”

“Aren’t you going a bit fast?” Trent asked.

“Fast” he repeated. He couldn’t his his astonishment. “I’ve known her practically all my life.”

“Then she’ll understand you need to spend time with your family.” Trent said trying to be reasonable. Glancing down at his wife of twenty years he said “son your mother and I understand how important Charity is to you….”

Gayle smiled up at him “we know this is all new and you want to spend every moment you can together…”

Ryan could hear the but hanging in the air as he asked “then why are you upset with me?” He glanced down to respond to the text he just received.

“Because there is such a thing as too much” Gayle gave her husband a pleading look.

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“Ryan you don’t want to smother the poor girl” he chuckled a little when that had his son tilting his chin up in defiance.

“I’m not” he protested “Charity hasn’t complained.”

“Nor will she until she can’t take it anymore” Trent said “girls tend to do that.” He grunted in pain as Gayle elbowed him. “What?” he asked looking down at her with a mischievous grin.

“That’s not true” Gayle shook her head at him “Ryan you do need time apart. Have you been out with your friends since you’ve been home?”
He took a moment to think about the past few weeks. “Hannah was over a couple of days ago.”

“Try a couple of weeks ago” Gayle corrected “she left after a couple of hours of watching you text Charity. I want you to think about something. Before Hannah left she said she felt like she had lost her two best friends.” She stepped forward placing her hands over his his stilling his fingers as they flew across the keyboard. “If Hannah’s feeling that way imagine how your family feels. You’re in the room with us but your mind is elsewhere.”

“Fine” he grumbled putting his phone away resisting the urge to take it out when he felt the familiar buzz alerting him to a new text. “Whatever” he muttered throwing himself into an empty chair.

“Look honey” Trent pointed towards their son “isn’t it heart warming how much he wants to spend time with us?”

Ryan rolled his eyes wondering how long he’d have to wait until Charity gave him the all clear to come to Isla Paradiso. He couldn’t wait to see her again. Texting was great but it didn’t compare to be being able to see and hold her in his arms.

***

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“Honey can you put that thing away?” Zane asked with a petulant tone.

“Don’t you remember what it was like when we first met?” Graham asked “it felt like we couldn’t get enough of each other.”

“I still feel that way” Zane smirked as his husband crawled into his lap.

“Get a room” Charity mumbled peering up from her phone display.

Chuckling a little Graham moved to the couch beside Zane. “Is this better?” he asked innocently.

“Much” she mumbled fingers flying over the keys as she typed.

“Charity can you put that thing down for a few minutes?” Graham asked “we haven’t had a chance to really talk since you came home.”

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked setting her phone on her thigh.

Her parents exchanged glances. Graham took a deep breath before asking “are you mad at us?”

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“Why would I be mad?” she reached for her phone to respond to the text she just received.

“Stop deflecting” Zane reached across the coffee table snatching her phone from her hands “Ryan can wait.”

“It’s called multitasking not deflecting” she hugged her knees to her chest sulking.

“It’s deflecting when you use this” he waved her phone in the air “as a means to keep from talking to us.”

“Whatever” she mumbled refraining from rolling her eyes.

“Wipe that look from your face” Zane snapped.

Charity gaped at him. It was plain to see she had no clue what face she had made that had so irritated him.

Graham glanced from his husbands face to his daughters. Sighing he said “sweetie are you mad at us for not telling you about your mother?”

Charity dragged her eyes away from Zane. She could see by the way Graham sat tense on the edge of his seat that he was anxious over her reply. It mattered to him whether she was mad. The simple answer was “yes” she snapped her mouth shut as soon as the angry word escaped her lips. She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. Her pink haired father seemed to shrink in on himself. “Daddy please” she pleaded “you have to understand. This total stranger came up to me with papers proving she was my mother. I didn’t know what to believe.”

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“I’m sorry” he sounded miserable “I hoped she wouldn’t track you down when she knew we couldn’t pay.”

Zane patted his hand “sweetie you dad and I didn’t want you to feel you’re mother only wanted to find you for the money she might be able to exploit from us.”

She nodded feeling miserable for the pain she could see in their eyes. “I didn’t want to believe you kept her from me all this time.”

“But you still wanted to know her” Graham added “I understand that. Every child wants a relationship with their parents if they can have one.”

She nodded “all she wanted was money though.” She jumped to her feet feeling trapped. Before she could go more than a few steps strong arms engulfed her.

“I’m sorry” Graham held her smoothing her hair “it’s awful to realize that someone only wants you for what you can give them.”

She could feel his heart beat beneath her hand. “I’m sorry. I should never have listened to her.”

She felt the warm comforting arms of her other dad as he came up behind her hugging both of them tight. “It’s alright sweetie. You have us. You have Ryan.” Charity could hear the terse way he said Ryan’s name.

“Don’t you like Ryan?” she asked fear gripping her heart. “I thought you liked him.” She didn’t want to have to choose between her parents and her boyfriend.

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“Sweetie” Graham chuckled “your dad is never going to like any boy who takes you away from us.”

“You’re my little girl” Zane said with the same petulant tone he had used earlier “I don’t want to think about anyone taking you from us.”

“Ryan wouldn’t do that” she insisted “we’re going to run the resort together.”

Stepping back Graham grinned at her. “Are you planning our retirement already?”

“We’re not that old yet” Zane protested.

“I never said that you were” she watched as Zane put an arm around Graham. “It’s just when you are old you won’t have to worry about anything. Ryan and I will take care of you.”

Looking at Graham Zane winked “I don’t know about you old man but I feel all warm and fuzzie.”

Ignoring his husbands antics Graham took Charity’s hands. “You don’t have to worry about us. I want you to be happy. Pursue your dreams. You don’t have to tie yourself down to the resort just because you think that’s what we want you to do.”

“It’s not that daddy” she smiled at him “I want to take over the resort. I love it here and I want my children to love it as much as I do.”

***

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Feeling somewhat lost without his phone Ryan wandered into the backyard. His little sister was sitting motionless on one of the swings. “Hey kiddo” he leaned on the swing set watching her.

“Go away” she sniffed running a grubby hand across her eyes.

“Hey” he murmured dropping to his knees beside her “I’m sorry.”

“So” she kicked her toes into the loose sand “am I supposed to forgive you now?”

Taken slightly off guard Ryan sighed “yeah I was kinda hoping you would.”

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Grabbing the chain as she swept past him Ryan stopped her forward momentum. “I know I hurt you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

She gave him a disbelieving look. “Yeah right” she jumped from the swing. “Did you think calling me a pest wouldn’t hurt my feelings?”

“I wh…” he shrugged cheeks burning as he stared at the ground. “I’m sorry. What else can I say?”

“That wasn’t even the worse of it” she crossed her arms “you ignored me. Do you know how that made me feel?”

Ryan shook his head shoving his hands into his pockets. This was worse than anything his parents could have said to him. “What can I do to make it up to you?” he asked as the silence hung between them

“Jerk” she grumbled “I wanted to yell and scream at you.”

“I deserve it” he said quietly without moving.

“It’s no fun if you just stand there and take it” she took a small step towards him tears making her eyes water. “I really missed you Ry.”

“I missed you too” his voice gruff as he fought back tears.

“Liar” she gave him a severe frown.

“I did” he declared “I really really did.”

“Words are cheap” she said lips twitching “you need to prove it.”

“How?” he asked closing the gap between them.

“Dinner and a movie” she said glaring up at him.

“Its a date” he held his arms out to her. With a giggle she ran into them.

***

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Later that night Ryan lay on his bed. His phone pressed to his ear. “Sorry”he murmured “my parents confiscated my phone.”

“So did mine” Charity giggled “I guess we have been over doing it a little.”

“I guess” he agreed sighing “I miss you.”

“I miss you more” she grinned “what can we do about it though?”

“I was thinking….” he bit his lip suddenly afraid it wasn’t a good idea.

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“About what?” she prompted after his silence continued longer than expected.

“Maybe I could go there for a couple of weeks?”

“What about your family? Don’t you want to spend time with them?” she asked.

“It’s a couple of weeks” he rolled his eyes “besides we’re adults. We don’t even have to come home for the summer if we don’t want to.”

“That’s true” she said hesitantly.

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To Ryan’s ears she sounded distant and sad. “Don’t you want me to come?”

“Of course I do” she cried “it’s just…”

“Just what?” he demanded sitting up.

“I don’t know if my dad’s are ready for me to be dating seriously yet” she admitted.

“Is that all?” Ryan could hear the bitterness in his voice “do you want to break up?”

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“What?” she cried “of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“So I can come” he asked again.

“See if Hannah will come to” she requested “it might make my parents happier if it were a group thing.”

“Alright I’ll ask” he promised giving in “can I still come if she can’t come?”

“You think she won’t?” she asked panic rising in her voice.

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“I’ll ask. That’s all I can do” Ryan said trying to ease her anxiety “she’s in the same boat we are.”

“At least my dad’s know you” Charity laughed softly “I don’t envy Hannah having to introduce Donovan to her dad’s.”

“Especially Uncle Rory” Ryan laughed as he thought about Hannah “I wish her luck.”

“She’s going to need it” she agreed “tell her to come. She’ll need us if Donovan’s visit goes bad.”

“I’ll do that” he promised “Charity….” He swallowed audibly, heart beating fast in his chest. His palms felt clammy as he fought for air “I love you.”

Silence greeted his proclamation. After a moment she said “I love you too.” Her voice stilling his panic and wildly beating heart.

Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities / Chapter 33 – Where Is Here?

Hannah – Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

Leaving Zach’s room Teasha went to the back porch. She stared into the darkening sky. It scared her to think of a world without her brother in it. She realized now he should have been in therapy a long time ago. When all of this started probably. He had been so fragile then. No one wanted to push the issue. Now if they wanted him to survive they had to push him. A tear rolled down her cheek. The last couple of months had been almost impossible to get through.

Worry for her brother. Concern for Phoenix. Coupled with the nagging suspicion Zach had done something really terrible. Dexter had gone missing the night he confronted Zach. What had happened between them? Had Dexter forced himself on Zach? Had Zach hurt him while he was fighting back? The police had questioned all of them before they left university. They came here to question Zach. So far they had made no arrests but the nagging thoughts persisted. She groaned audibly squeezing he eyes shut. She hated herself for even thinking Zach could be capable of hurting anyone.

The door opened behind her. She turned to face whoever it was who had come outside to join her. “Sweetie” Ramsey said his voice unusually gentle “you talked to Zach.” It was a probing inquiry. A hopeful request she could enlighten him as to what was going on inside his son’s head.

“I think he might be pregnant” she confided in him.

“Waylon’s or that….” Ramsey grimaced unable to say the other boy’s name “I’ll kill him.”

“I don’t know” she said deciding to be honest “it might be Zach’s way of making the situation more tolerable if he believes the baby is Waylon’s.”

“In other words he had sex with Waylon after whatever happened with….” he fell silent, hands balling into fists imagining what he’d do if Dexter were suddenly in front of him. “We can always do a paternity test” he conceded through clenched teeth.

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“Zach won’t like that” she pointed out “Waylon will no doubt back him up.”

“So what is this Waylon guy like?” Ramsey asked.

“He’s a good guy” Teasha smiled as she recalled how he would walk Zach to and from class. “He seems to understand Zach” she leaned her head to the side “it’s almost like he knows what it’s like to be hurt.”

Ramsey nodded looking out across the night sky “if he’s such a good guy why did they break up?”

“I wish I knew” she said quietly. She stepped forward hugging her dad “I’ll try to get Zach to open up more. You know how he is. He holds everything inside until he explodes.”

He snorted in response “we’ll all continue to try.” He brushed her hair from her face. He gave her a reassuring smile “we won’t let anything happen to him. I promise we’ll get through this.”

She nodded giving him a kiss on the cheek “I know dad.” She smiled before moving to go back inside the house. Leaving him to stare out into the growing darkness.

***

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She closed the door behind her. She expected to find the triplets watching some boring show on TV or playing video games. Instead Bruce was standing waiting expectantly for her. His light blue eyes reflected his worry. “If you’re looking for dad he’s outside” she offered feeling uncomfortable under his steady gaze.

“Thank you” he acknowledged making no move to join Ramsey outside.

“Is something wrong?” she asked becoming more certain something was up the longer they stood staring at each other.

He took a step forward engulfing her in his strong arms. “Sweetie I’m so so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” she demanded her voice rising “what’s going on?”

Taking her hands he led her to the couch. When they were seated he said “I received a call from my Aunt…..”

“The one with contacts in the military” Teasha asked feeling her pulse quicken. “Did they find him? Is he alight? Please daddy I need to know.”

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“His plane was found” Bruce confirmed “a couple of weeks ago.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?” she started to shake.

“They found him….alive” he watched her as she soaked in his words.

“Alive? He’s alive” she sniffed as fresh tears and shock swept through her. “Where is he?” she grabbed his arm clinging to him like he was her life-preserver.

“He’s in pretty bad shape” Bruce explained “he was injured from the crash, lost at sea with little to no food and water, no medical attention….” he sighed watching as the hope drained in her eyes “it’s a miracle he’s lived this long.”

“But he is….alive” she squeezed his arm.

“Yes he’s alive” he affirmed.

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“I have to go to him” she jumped to her feet heading towards her room.

“Teasha wait” Bruce called after her to no avail. He followed her into her room. Stood watching as she pulled out her suitcase and began filling it. “Honey slow down a minute. You can’t just leave.”

“Why not?” she demanded “you would leave if it were one of us or dad.”

“I would” he nodded “Phoenix can’t have visitors yet and even if he could you’re not married.”

“I love him daddy” she asserted undeterred by his comments.

“I know you do” he walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “My point is they won’t let you see him. You’re not family. You’re not even his girlfriend.”

“What am I supposed to do” she cried dropping the shirt she was holding to the floor.

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“Until he’s better and they allow visitors outside of family there isn’t much you can do.” He stroked her hair wishing there was something he could do to ease her pain.

“Except hope and pray” she mumbled against his shoulder.

“There’s plenty you can do around here” he suggested “we need all the help we can get with Zach.”

“Alright” she sniffed wiping her nose on the back of her hand.

“Use a kleenex” Bruce told her with a touch of humor.

“Sorry” she mumbled grabbing a Kleenex from the box on her nightstand.

***

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The next day she threw a box towards her brother where he lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “What’s this?” he asked inspecting it.

“What do you think it is?” she rolled her eyes starting to lose her patience with him. “I told you I was going to get you one. Now go take it.”

He stared at her a flicker of annoyance in his eyes. “I’ll do it later” he said laying it aside on his nightstand returning his gaze to the ceiling.

“No” she put her hands on her hips “you’ll do it now. You can’t pretend nothing is wrong.”

She hadn’t slept well and combined with her worry over Phoenix her patience was at an all time low. “Take the damn test Zach.”

He jumped at the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry” he mumbled automatically. Apologizing seemed to be what he did most now. It seemed he was always doing or saying something that required it. It was an automatic reflex to raised voices and perceived slights.

“Zach I’m not mad at you” she sighed trying to get a firm grip on her emotions.

“You are” he stood taking the test. He stumbled to the bathroom eyes focused on the floor.

“Alright I am” she affirmed “I’m sorry.”

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He nodded accepting her anger but not the apology. What else could he do? He closed the door behind him blotting out her face and words. Wondered what she’d do if he just said he took the test and didn’t? Several minutes later he took the damn test even though he already knew what the results would be. He’d been sick and nauseous for weeks now.

Minutes passed while sat slumped against the bathroom wall staring at the positive results. His ears were ringing as he wondered what his next move should be. He was going to be a father. Waylon was going to be a dad. He had to tell him. Would he be happy? Would he be like everyone else and assume the baby was Dexter’s?

He covered his face with his hands as an image from that night came to mind. Dexter knocking him to the dew drenched ground. The long grass concealing them from the casual viewer. Zach struggling beneath him getting in a few good hits. Dexter had been better at evading his fists than he had been. The punch that had Zach seeing stars, the weight of Dexter pinning him to the ground, the sloppy insistent kiss Dexter forced on him as his hands groped at his clothes. The sense of humiliation of what was about to happen. The helpless feeling he had at not being able to prevent it as Dexter’s hands slipped past the waist line of his jeans. The desperation that drove Zach to drive his elbow into Dexter’s nose. The blow that finally dislodged him allowing Zach to roll out from beneath him. He could still remember the way it felt as his fist connected with Dexter’s face, over and over again. Then the frightening moment when he thought he was going to die staring at the object Dexter had pulled from his jacket…..

“Zach are you alright in there?” Teasha’s voice broke through his daze ending the moment before he could remember what happened next.

***

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Vincent perched on the edge of his bed. His room was in the process of being painted. A half assembled baby crib stood where his stereo used to be. This time next year he’d be sleeping on the couch when he came home for the summer. What were his parents thinking? People their age shouldn’t be having babies.

When he said as much the hurt in his mother’s eyes reproached him. The disappointed tone his father used when they spoke had him regretting his ill chosen words.

Laying back on his bed closing his eyes he refused to believe he was jealous of a baby that wasn’t even born yet. He had wanted a little brother or sister for years. He didn’t want one now that he’d be almost twenty when it was born. He was old enough to be its father and his parents the grandparents. What were they thinking?

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He sat up wondering what his friends were doing. Teasha and Zach were out. He didn’t feel up to walking through an emotional minefield with them. Same with Divia. She spent most of her time at the hospital with her dad. He wondered about her sudden interest in her dad and the guilt she must be feeling. He had lived next door to the girl all of his life so he could only imagine what she must be going through right now.

He could call Ryan. He sat up pulling his phone out. Did he want to spend time with a guy who would do nothing but talk about his girlfriend? He was happy for the guy but he didn’t feel up to having his nose rubbed in it. Hannah? Not her either. She was just as bad as her cousin if not worse. She and Ryan were probably gloating together over their satisfactory love lives.

Feeling restless he ran up the stairs determined to find something to do other than feel sorry for himself. At times like this his thoughts always turned towards Trinity. He found himself wondering what she had wanted to tell him in the waiting room. When he had finally gotten to see the doctor she had been gone when he came out. He knew he had missed something important. After that he had gotten busy with writing term papers and studying for exams. She left soon after to see her mom in Monte Vista.

***

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“Where are you going son?” his father’s voice came from behind him.

“Out” he muttered. It sounded harsher than he meant it to. He was so tired of his parents hovering over him.

“When will you be back?” he asked.

Shrugging Vincent rolled his head from side to side. “When I get back” he replied evasively. “I’m not a baby. I can come and go as a I please.”

“For an adult you sure act like a child” Milo said.

Vincent squeezed his eyes tight. He could hear the gentle rebuke in his father’s voice. The disappointment as well as disapproval. Sighing he turned from the door. “I just have a lot of things to think about.”

Gesturing toward the table Milo asked “want to tell me about it?”

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Vincent hesitated before nodding “I don’t know what good it will do.”

“You’ll never know until you try” Milo said taking a chair and indicating for Vincent to sit down. Reluctantly his son moved to the proffered chair while Milo went to the fridge for drinks. Setting one in front of Vince he sat down opposite him. “What’s on your mind? I know you’re not happy about the baby. I have a feeling though that’s not the only thing wrong.”

Vincent stared at the soda in front of him. He reached for it. Popped it open. Took a several gulps hoping to stall long enough until his father lost interest. Setting it down he sighed “why aren’t I enough?”

Milo blinked sitting back tapping his finger tips on the table. “What gave you that idea? Your mother and I never meant for you to feel that way. We love you.”

Shaking his head Vincent could feel the same old frustration rising inside him. “No that’s not it. Yeah I was shocked, even jealous of the baby. It’s like I don’t belong here anymore.” He slapped his hand down on the old table they’ve had since before he was born. Milo got up for a cloth to wipe up the spilled soda from his overturned bottle.

“Your room” he said quietly.

“My room. That’s a laugh” Vincent crossed his arms pouting “it’s the baby’s nursery now. This time next year it’ll be full of baby things and I’ll be sleeping on the couch.”

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“Vincent” Milo’s voice was firm causing Vince to look up “you’re an adult. This time next year you could have a girlfriend. You could be planning to get married. You won’t be living here forever.”

Vincent stared vacantly at the smooth surface of the table. “I know it’s just….the only girl I want won’t give me the time of day.”

“Oh” Milo chuckled “now we’re getting somewhere.” He shook his head at the scowl his son was giving him. “Son if it were only the baby and the loss of your room I’d be worried we didn’t raise you right.”

Vincent slumped back in his chair with an air of defeat. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat. I know you and mom don’t have a lot of money because of me…”

“Our financial problems aren’t your fault. The medical expenses were worth it. We chose to incur the expense because we wanted the best for you. We don’t regret it. We had to be frugal with what we had. We had to do without but not once have we regretted it.” He moved around the table “we would do it all again if we had to.”

“Thanks dad” Vincent looked up at his dad tears blurring his vision.

Over the next couple of hours he confided in his parents everything that had transpired while he was away at school.

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“Does she know how you feel about her?” His mom asked having joined them and moved them to the living room. She was curled up beside her husband on the couch.

Vincent shrugged from where he sat on the floor. “She told me from the start she wasn’t into relationships.”

“I think you’re missing something” Jillian persisted “she went out of her way to take care of you when you needed help.” She gave him a severe glare that said his drunken night out was going to come up again “she wanted to tell you something. I think it might be important and what you want to hear.”

“It’s too late” he whined “she’s in Monte Vista and I’m here. I’ll never know what it was.”

“Not with that attitude” she snapped “stop wallowing in self-pity and do something. If you want the girl figure something out.”

Figure something out. Easier said than done. He couldn’t just buy a plane ticket. He didn’t have the money and by the time he saved up enough school will have started. He could call but he couldn’t afford the long distance bill. Once again he could feel defeat pressing in around him.

Chapter 30 – Therapy / Chapter 32 – Missing You

Hannah – Chapter 30 – Therapy

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Divia sat alone absorbing the early morning sun. She had been home for over a month now. It had been touch and go with her dad for the first week. When he opened his eyes and stared without recognition at her and her mom it almost broke her heart. Divia thought she’d lose it. Where the strength came from to hold her mom as she wept on her shoulder she had no clue. Inside all she wanted to do was run away and never come back.

That was three weeks ago. His memory had improved since then. It was still fuzzy. Certain events he still didn’t remember like the accident itself. Divia thought that was a blessing. Who would want to remember something that traumatic?

She leaned back her eyes closed. Her face tilted towards the sun. A slight smile upon her face. Today was the first day of his physical therapy. She hoped her dad wouldn’t be difficult and argue with the therapist. She knew how temperamental he could be especially when he was in pain or embarrassed. When he was both who knew what he was capable of? Liono hated to appear weak in front of anyone. It was worse when it was his family and friends. For weeks his visitors had been tip toeing around his room afraid of saying or doing something wrong. Not an easy task Divia knew from experience. Depending on his mood anything might spark an argument.

“Excuse me” a soft exotic voice said above her head “is someone sitting here?”

“Oh” Divia murmured opening her eyes “sorry.” She scooted over making room for the someone else to sit.

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“Thank you” the voice said sounding grateful “sorry for disturbing you. I just really needed to get off my feet.”

“No problem” Divia was quick to say. She took a glance over at the person she was sharing a bench with. Her acquaintance was the exact opposite of what she imagined she’d look like based off her voice. The young woman had dark wavy hair tumbling past her shoulders. There were streaks of an unspecified color that may have been the result of a failed highlight job. It was the woman’s eyes that were remarkable. They were hidden behind thick dark frames but their soft mahogany glow shone through. Divia found herself staring longer than seemed polite.

The woman laughed breaking the spell Divia was under. “Do I have a booger coming out my nose or something?” the woman asked. Her smile was genuine as she self-consciously wiped a hand over and around her nose.

“No no I’m sorry” Divia mumbled as her cheeks grew hot.

“I’d prefer it if someone told me if there were” she flashed her a toothy grin “I’d hate to find out later I was walking around with a big old booger hanging from my nose. People may think its impolite to say something but it’s so much worse to let someone walk around like that.”

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Divia found herself relaxing around her and laughing along with her. Glancing at the time she sighed “I should be going. My dad’s about to start physical therapy and I have to be there.”

Frowning the woman stood up as well. “From my experience patients usually don’t want their family around.”

“I know” Divia shrugged glancing away. Her eyes moving around the serene garden like park wishing she could bottle the peace she felt there. “My dad isn’t very….cooperative. He may need me there to keep him somewhat civil.” Turning back to her companion she said “he wouldn’t want to appear weak in front of me.”

“Ok” the woman nodded seeming to have filed what she said away “I guess I’ll be seeing you later than.”

“You might” Divia agreed thinking the woman was there visiting another patient.

***

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Twenty minutes later Divia sat unobtrusively to the side while her dad went through the paces. He grunted in pain. Never once complaining. Maybe it was her presence or maybe the fact his therapist was young and pretty. Divia knew her eyes almost popped from their eye sockets when her acquaintance from outside came into the room in a lab coat introducing herself as Renee Hauske, physical therapist.

As the interns helped her dad into his wheelchair. Renee smiled brightly at her “I knew we’d meet again” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Divia swallowed as her hands suddenly felt clammy. She could feel the woman’s eyes watching her in a way that made her pulse race. Her mouth felt dry as she croaked out her own name in response.

“It’s nice to meet you Divia” the calm self-assured woman smiled again before turning her full attention to her father.

Divia’s ears perked up when she heard her dad’s deep voice ask “are you married?” Inwardly she groaned. Why did older people feel the need to ask personal information about someone’s relationship status upon meeting them?

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“I was engaged” Renee’s soft exotic voice replied “it didn’t work out obviously.” she laughed waving her empty finger around.

“His loss” Liono chuckled with her.

“We wanted different things” Renee sighed “she lives in Sunset Valley with her new girlfriend now.”

Divia held her breath leaning forward listening for her dad’s response. Would he be repulsed by having a lesbian therapist? She knew he had gay friends but for whatever reason he never struck her as being very accepting of them.

“Give it time” he advised her “you’ll find the girl eventually.”

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“It’s been almost three years” she objected “all I seem to attract are jerks.”

“Maybe you like jerks” Liono said with a grin and a sparkle in his eyes.

Laughing Renee shook her head “you might be right.” She helped him back into his chair.

“That’s all for today Mr Marx. You did excellent today.”

Liono smirked as he caught sight of his daughter watching them. “My daughter’s single. Maybe you could ask her out,” he suggested.

“Dad” Divia protested walking towards them cheeks blazing with heat.

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“What” he demanded innocently eyes shifting “did you think I didn’t know?”

“I” her eyes darted towards Renee “I never told you. How did you….”

“I’m not blind or an idiot” he grumbled but his eyes never lost their twinkle “did you think I wouldn’t approve?” Her silence spoke for her as he nodded in acceptance. “I want you to be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Stepping back Renee suggested “maybe you’d like to take your dad to the garden where you can talk.”

Nodding Divia took her place behind her dad’s wheelchair. She didn’t knew what to say or even what she should be feeling. She felt somehow lighter like a heavy burden had been removed from her shoulders. Her dad loved her. He wasn’t mad like she expected him to be. To her astonishment he had tried to set her up with his therapist. Tears stung her eyes blurring her vision.

“Are you crying?” Liono asked his voice betraying his irritation he felt around anyone crying.

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“Sorry” she mumbled slowly pushing him towards the bench she had shared with Renee earlier that day.

“Divia I’m not upset I wish…” he sighed “I wish you’d own your feelings. If you feel angry be angry. If you feel like crying than cry. Don’t let me or anyone else dictate how you feel.” He fell silent while Divia sat down on the bench facing him. He reached over took her hand “I know I’ve been hard on you. I’m sorry. I thought if I pushed you enough you’d stand up for yourself.” He squeezed her hand “I guess that’s not what you needed and I’m sorry.”

Something broke inside her. Like a chunk of ice had fallen away from her heart. “Daddy” she cried throwing her arms around “I love you so so much and I’m sorry I doubted you.”

Hesitantly at first he raised his arms to hold her. “Does this mean I have a green light to set things up with Renee?”

“Oh daddy you’re impossible” she cried into his shoulder feeling she’d let him do whatever he wanted as long as she knew he loved her.

***

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Zach stared out the window. The busy sidewalk showed people going about their everyday lives. Some wore dresses, some were in business suits, others in t-shirts and jeans. Mothers with babies in strollers. Others were carrying multiple bags from their shopping excursions. All normal. Zach couldn’t help but wonder what was behind the smiles. What monsters lurked within? Who went home and hurt the ones they loved?

Shivering he turned away from the window. He found his therapist watching him. Her eyes following his every movement making feel conspicuous. He crossed his arms in front of himself wishing he were a turtle so he could hide within his shell. He watched her lips twitch as she jotted down something inside her notebook.

He watched the pen she wrote with. For a moment he wondered how she could write with her arm curled up like that. It seemed very awkward but a lot of left-handed writers appeared to write like that. It was something that he’d always noticed, had tried to copy but couldn’t.

When she was done she twirled the pin around, appearing to be in deep thought. “What were you thinking about when you gazed out the window?” she asked after several minutes of silence.

The sound of her voice caught Zach off guard. The intake of his breath was loud in the silent room. He shook his head slowly his hair flying around his face “nnothing” he stammered. He could feel her gaze on him making him squirm.

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“Zach if you want my help you need to talk to me” the woman’s voice was gentle to Zach’s ears.

“Are you really as nice as you appear?” he asked his voice low, cautious.

She raised her chin to acknowledge she heard his question. “What makes you think I might not be?” she countered his question with one of her own.

He pressed his spine into the hard backed chair he sat in. He glanced furtively around the room stopping on the exit door. His dad was sitting just on the other side of that door. All he had to do was get up and walk through it and this would all be over.

“Zach” her voice was low barely loud enough to catch his attention. “Do you think about what people are hiding behind their smiles?”

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Shocked he nodded “there’s a lot of evil hidden behind pleasant smiles.”

“It’s exhausting trying to figure out what someone’s hiding isn’t it?” she asked.

He nodded wondering how she knew. “You can’t tell” he mumbled. His eyes were vacant as he retreated further into himself.

He watched as she checked the time. She gave him a thin-lipped smile before placing her hands flat on top of her desk. “That’s it for today. We’ll see you on Friday” she said like a question giving him the option to say no.

He never did. He simply nodded as he moved towards the door wondering what if anything she learned about him and whether it was helping him or not.

***

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Later that night Teasha slipped into his room. “How did it go?” she asked sitting on the edge of his bed her light blue eyes watching him.

Sitting up he shrugged “I don’t like her.”

“Tell daddy and he’ll find someone else” she suggested.

“It’s not that easy” he drew his knees up wrapping his arms around them. “She makes me say things I don’t want to think about.”

She gave him a quizzical look “that’s kind of what she’s supposed to do. It’s the only way she can help you.”

“I guess” he mumbled “are you home for good now?”

Teasha nodded “at least for the summer. I wish you’d change your mind and come back to school with me in the fall.” She saw the terrified look in his eyes “it’s not the same without you.”

“Waylon won’t be there” he sighed resting his chin on his hands a shudder shaking his shoulders.

“Have you heard from him lately?” she asked ruffling his soft blonde hair with her fingers.

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“No” he almost wailed.

“He hasn’t called?” her voice sounded shocked.

“He has” Zach mumbled “I haven’t answered.”

“Why the hell not?” she demanded indignant on Waylon’s behalf.

Shrugging his shoulders he talked into his hands making his words hard to understand. “What’s the point? I’m here. He’s there. It’s over….”

She had to admit he did have a point. “You can still be friends” she said quietly.

“I don’t want to be friends” he closed his eyes images of their last night together replaying in his mind. A low moan escaped his lips as his body remembered the way Waylon’s hands ignited a fire within him.

“Zach you and he … you didn’t….” she gave him a piercing gaze “you did.” She was shocked. She wouldn’t have thought her brother would ever. Not after….”You didn’t just do it with Waylon because of Dex…”

He lifted his head up. Eyes blazing with hate “Dexter never touched me. He tried but I…” His throat constricted cutting off his voice.

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“Alright” she replied calmly wondering what actually did happen between him and Dexter. No one had seen Dexter after that night. No she mentally chided herself. Her brother would never hurt anyone. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. “At least tell me you and Waylon were safe.”

“Safe?” he looked at her eyes wide his tone confused.

“Yeah safe as in careful” she rolled her eyes at him “you know protection. Geez Zach do I have to spell it out for you.”

“Of course we…” his voice faltered he didn’t exactly remember. Had they used anything? “I don’t know” he admitted aloud “it’s not like we planned for it to happen. It just did.”

“Zach” she cried in exasperation “you’re an idiot.”

The magnitude of what he said started to sink in he asked “what am I going to do now?” His anxiety causing his voice to come out squeaky.

“The first thing you’re going to do is take a pregnancy test” she told him.

“Why?” he asked recoiling at the idea.

“Zach use your head” she bit her lip to keep from saying more. He was already in shock at the idea of being pregnant she had to be gentle if she wanted him to cooperate with her. “You know as well as I do you could be pregnant.”

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“I know” he cried as the enormity of it pressed in around him choking off his air “All I wanted was to feel better. To feel loved. I didn’t think…”

“It’s going to be alright” she soothed pulling him close rocking him in her arms like she did when they were kids and he’d had a bad dream “we’ll figure this out together. I promise it’s going to be ok.”

“I’m sorry that you always have to take care of me” he muttered into her shoulder “everyone would be better off if I had jumped off the bridge that night.”

“What? What did you say?” she demanded pushing him from her shoulder. Holding his face between her hands “don’t you dare think that’s an option. I’d be lost without you. Our dads would be devastated. How do you think Waylon would feel? He loves you.”

Tears streamed down his face “I’m sorry. I try not to think about how awful everything is. How people hide who they are behind smiles. I wonder what evil lurks behind those smiles. I just want peace. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to die either. It’s just sometimes the dark thoughts surround me and I wonder if it’d be better to not have to think at all ever again.”

Shaking him she demanded “when these feelings come up call me. Call dad or daddy. Waylon or anyone else. We’ll drop everything and come to you. You’re not alone. You have people who care about you. Who want to help you.”

“I…” he turned away from her intense gaze “I don’t want to be a burden. You have lives to live. You don’t need me hanging around like a dead weight around your necks.”

“Then talk to that therapist. Tell her everything you just told me.” She pulled him close “you don’t have to suffer through this alone.”

“I’ll try” he said “I promise I’ll try.”

Chapter 29 – Don’t Need You / Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

Hannah – Chapter 29 – Don’t Need You

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“Hello” Charity answered her phone careful to keep her voice low in case Hannah was asleep. “Hello” she repeated her voice raising upon hearing what sounded like crying.

“I’m …. sorry” a feminine voice gulped between sobs.

“Who is this?” Charity demanded forgetting her best friend could be asleep across the room.

“He….he…said” a heavy silence hung in the air as the caller sought to compose themselves. “I wasn’t to….oh god…it was…he was….awful.”

Charity glanced over at Hannah’s side of the room. Her bed was still made as if she hadn’t come back. Vaguely she wondered where she was. The sobbing increased in her ear. The caller hadn’t introduced themselves. Charity was beginning to wonder if this was some kind of terrible joke.

“That boy” the caller mumbled “can’t be trusted.”

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“What?” Charity asked the voice that was starting to sound familiar.

“Your so-called protector. Friend. Whatever” the woman sobbed “he can’t be trusted.”

“Ryan?” Charity squeaked.

“Yeah him. If that’s his name” the woman affirmed “he…” she gulped audibly “never mind. You won’t believe me.”

“Believe you?” Charity repeated becoming more confused as the call continued “what are you talking about?” She had a suspicion she wasn’t going to like the answer. Ryan never wanted her to meet with her mother. Her parents never told her that her mother had tried to contact her in the past. The phone shook in her hand. She was tired of everyone telling her what and how to think.

“He tried to….to….” the woman gulped “give me money.”

“He what?” Charity gasped “Ryan wouldn’t do that.”

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“He thought” another anguished sob “mmmmoney would kkkkeep me away fffrom you.”

“Was that why didn’t meet me last night at the restaurant?” Charity asked gripping the phone. She hoped the answer was no. Anything else would be too much to contemplate.

“Yyyyes” came the contrite answer in a small tearful voice “I couldn’t face you. Nnnnot after he….he threatened me.”

Charity squeezed her eyes shut. Why would Ryan do that? He had always been her friend. Her self-appointed protector. The one person she could always rely on. Her entire world felt as if it was about to implode.

Breaking into her troubled thoughts, her mother said “meet me for breakfast. I’m worried about you.”

“O…kay” Charity agreed feeling shell-shocked. Her brows furrowed. Why the sudden concern? She had survived the night without incident. Ryan’s room was a few doors away. He’d never hurt her. She was positive of that.

***

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Moving around the room she wondered where Hannah was. It was unusual for her to be up this early. Charity could count the times Hannah had beat her up in the mornings. There had been times Charity would have to get up early to help her dad’s with the resort. Hannah never had to, even when she came to visit Isla Paridiso in the summer.

She carried her clothes to the communal bathroom. At least being up this early meant she would have the showers to herself. Which meant plenty of hot water. A luxury she had learned to live without. Wrapping a towel around herself she stepped out of the shower. There was a light, mist on the mirrors from the super heated shower she had. Staring at her image she observed the bags under her eyes from crying herself to sleep the night before. There was something off about her mother’s sob story. She could hear the sobs over the phone. It sounder fake to her ears the more she thought about it. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. If felt like a trap. Her stomach twisted in worry as her anxiety rose.

Hastily she threw her clothes on. Sighing in relief that she chose clothes she was comfortable in. She pulled her panda hat down further to one side smiling in satisfaction at her reflection. Why had she tried so hard to impress someone she didn’t even know? Why had she been so willing to believe their word over the people she had known all her life?

***

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Opening the door she almost bumped into Ryan. She noticed the haggard look in his eyes. The tense way his jaw was set. He looked like he hadn’t slept at all. “Ryan” she called his name.

He looked up eyes vacant “Charity” he croaked.

“Are you alright?” she reached a hand out to steady him as he slumped against the wall.

“Fine. I’m fine” he muttered shaking her hand from his shoulder.

She looked away regretting all the times she had rebuffed his concern. “Isn’t there…I mean” she stopped unsure what she wanted to say “I’m sorry.” Impulsively she grabbed his wrist keeping him from walking away. “Please isn’t there some way we can go back?”

Slowly he turned to face her. His eyes glistened with tears “I’d like that” he mumbled.

Relief flushed through her like water through a dam. Throwing her arms around him she squeezed him tight. “I’ve missed you” she cried kissing his stubbly cheek. She felt his arms wrap around her waist. Holding her tight.

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He drew in a deep breath “I don’t want to be just friends.” He took his free hand to tilt her chin up to him. “I love you. I’ve loved you sense we were little kids.”

“I don’t….” she snapped her mouth shut. She could see the pain in his eyes as she said the words. “Why can’t we just be friends?” She didn’t expect an answer. She stiffened as he pulled her close. “What are you…..” her words were muffled as he covered her mouth with his. As his soft firm lips brushed across hers she let herself relax in her arms.

This was everything she had imagined and more. The knot in her stomach dissolved as she melted under his touch. She brought her hand up to his chest. She could feel his heart beating in rhythm with her own.

“I know you feel the same way about me” he whispered releasing her “don’t bother trying to deny it.”

“I” she brought her fingers to her lips. She could still imagine his kissing her. The way it took her breath away. She wanted to experience that again and again and again. “I love you too” she gasped. She watched as the most beautiful smile crept across his face transforming the tense tired lines into a carefree smile. He pulled her close. His body warm against hers as he began to shake. It took her a moment to realize he was laughing.

He swept her up into his arms “I’ve waited for so long to hear you say those words to me.” He set her down after swinging her around. Setting her down his eyes locked onto hers “I’d wait forever to hear you say it again.”

***

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Giggling she pushed him away “stop.”

“What” he asked following her into her room.

“You’re just being sappy now” she protested shaking her head.

“Maybe I’m just that kind of guy” he winked at her. He leaned against her wall watching her “are you going somewhere?”

She stopped searching for her bag. Turning she nodded. “She called this morning.” she knew the way his eyes narrowed she didn’t have to say who ‘she’ was. “She had some sob story of how you were ….” she stopped noticing the way he tensed up like a tiger about to pounce. “She wants to meet me for breakfast.”

“You’re not going” he barked.

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“I’m an adult” she snapped “I can do what I want.” She crossed her arms unsure why she was arguing with him. It’s not like she wanted to have breakfast with the woman. Not anymore at least.

“I’m sorry” he ran his fingers through his hair “you don’t understand what she is….”

Taking a step forward “tell me” she pleaded “you don’t have to protect me. I can handle it.”

“I” he gulped “she” he shoved his hands into his pockets.

“She what” she demanded. She could tell something was up. Ryan was seldom if ever tongue-tied. She glanced at the time. If she were going to make it on time she’d have to leave now. Shaking her head she decided her mother could wait. This time if they were going to meet it’d be on her terms. “Tell me” she repeated her voice softer, gentler.

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“I” he looked up at her his eyes troubled. “I don’t know where to begin.”

Taking his hand she pulled him closer to her. “How about with the truth” she suggested.

Nodding he sank to the floor as if his legs wouldn’t hold his weight anymore. “I don’t want to hurt you. I know how much meeting your mom means to you.”

She laid a gentle hand over his as she settled on the floor beside him. “Just tell me. I can handle it.” She was struck by the differences between the two. Her mother’s contrived sobs hadn’t tried to spare her feelings for Ryan. Yet her mother expected her to drop everything and come to her no questions asked.

“Last night” he stared at the floor “she was waiting for me….”

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“She was here” Charity asked “we were supposed to have supper together.”

“Charity please don’t meet up with her” he pleaded taking her hands in his “she wants…”

“Money” Charity finished for him. It was beginning to make sense. Why her parents hadn’t told her about her mom coming to see them. They hadn’t wanted her to know they had been asked for money. Hadn’t wanted her to think badly of the woman who had given her up for adoption.

“Maybe I should have agreed to her terms” Ryan continued as if she hadn’t spoken “I had enough in my account to cover her initial demands”

Taking his face between her hands “you are not going to give her a damn thing.”

He blinked at her in surprise “she said she’d leave you alone. I know how much this has upset you. I just want you to be happy.”

“I am happy” she smiled at him stroking his cheeks “I have two wonderful dad’s who love me. Out of all the kids in the world they chose me.” She moved closer bringing her lips to his. It felt awkward at first before she switched her mind off and just let it happen. It wasn’t passionate just sweet and tender. “I have you too. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how I felt about you.”

“Maybe I should thank her” Ryan smirked at her.

“You will not” she cried glaring at him before attacking him like she had when the were little seeking out his most ticklish places. He squirmed around trying to get away from her fingers.

“Ok ok I won’t I promise I won’t” he gasped for breath.

“You better not” she said “I should at least meet her. I want her to know something.”

“You’re not going alone” his voice rose in concern.

“Of course not” she smiled innocently at him “you’re coming with me.”

***

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Ryan held the restaurant door open. Charity smiled at him silently thanking him as she entered the small diner. Her eyes scanned the dimly lit interior. She found the object of her search sitting in a corner booth at the back of the restaurant.

She looked up when Ryan took her hand. “Relax” he whispered “I’m right beside you.”

She nodded in gratitude. How could she ever have doubted him? Why had she been so willing to accept that woman’s word over someone she had known most of her life? Despite everything he was here holding her hand. “I love you” she murmured smiling up at him.

“If it wouldn’t cause too much of a scene I’d kiss you right here right now” he smiled down at her.

“Go ahead kiss me” she dared her eyes never leaving his.

“His lips twitched as he gathered her in his arms drawing her close. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he leaned in close lips tenderly brushing across hers.

With his soft firm lips brushing across her, his scent and taste swirling around her the restaurant melted away. Nothing else mattered. It was just the two of them. A loud aggravated sigh broke them apart. Charity’s mothered stood in front of them giving them both a disapproving glare. “I thought we were eating breakfast alone” she gave Ryan an icy stare.

Pulling away from Ryan’s embrace Charity stared at the woman “I guess we’re even” she leaned into Ryan as he put an arm around her.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the woman snapped.

“Don’t you know?” Charity asked astonished “you stood me up last night. We had supper plans. You didn’t even call.”

“I told you what happened” her mother’s eyes slid towards Ryan “I’d rather discuss this in private.”

“I bet you would” Charity nodded up at Ryan “I’ll save you the trouble. I’m not interested in your sob story or your lies.” She felt the gentle reassuring pressure of Ryan’s arm around her. “If you want to get to know me you can. At my father’s resort over the summer. I’m tired of being jerked around by you.”

Frowning the woman fumbled for words “I told you why that wouldn’t work. They’ll just look down on me with their disapproving looks.”

“It’s my or no way,” Charity said firmly “my dad’s raised me. They made me into the person I am today. Where were you for the past nineteen years?” She shook her head “I don’t owe you a damn thing.” Looking up at Ryan “come on babe let’s order. I’m starving.”

Chapter 28 – Almost / Chapter 30 – Therapy

Hannah – Chapter 28 – Almost

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Groaning Vincent swallowed grimacing as his tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth. His throat was parched like he had just finished a running a marathon. He opened his eyes a crack blinking at the sudden brightness of the unfamiliar room. Where was he?

He moved to sit up. Swinging his legs over whatever he was lying on. He grabbed his head as the room spun around. His head began to throb to an unheard beat. What did he do last night?

The last thing he remembered as leaving the club. Drinking one too many drinks. The girls helping him out. Their high-pitched giggles as they ran their hands up his arm. One of them, he squeezed his eyes shut, one of them kissed him. The other had…he reached for his back pocket groaning when his hand came up empty. His wallet was gone.

“It’s about time you woke up” a concerned voice said from above his head. A door opened and closed. “How’s the head?” she asked as she dropped something heavy on a something with a loud bang.

“Pounding” Vincent mumbled “where am I?” He winced as he tried to move his neck.

“My dorm room” Trinity said coming into his limited eye sight. “It was closer than yours” she added.

Rubbing his temples he groaned “I think I’m going to be sick.”

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She handed him a nearby trash can “use this.”

He grabbed it in time to empty his stomach contents into it. “Thanks” he mumbled holding the trash can in case he needed it again.

“You should probably see a doctor,” she advised him “you took a pretty bad tumble.”

He grunted as flashes of the night before come to mind. The one kissing him kept him distracted while the other took his wallet “she hit me.”

“What was that?” Trinity asked from her desk.

“She hit me” he repeated “she took my wallet than hit me.”

“You don’t mean those blonde’s you were with last night” Trinity asked turning to face him.

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“Yeah them” he moaned “I must have been an easy mark. Here I was thinking they liked me. I should have known better.”

She refrained from agreeing with him. “Be thankful it wasn’t worse” she said turning back to her homework.

“Is it really that late?” Vincent asked after several minutes of silence had passed between them. “I couldn’t have slept that much.”

“Well you were pretty out of it” Trinity said from her desk “don’t forget you did take a nasty knock to the head.” Sounds of him retching filled her ears “you might have a concussion.”

“I think I’d rather be dead” he moaned wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Come on” she said moving from her desk “you need to see the doctor.” She put an arm around him as he swayed on his feet.

“Thank you” he mumbled grateful for her support.

***

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Trinity drove him to the hospital. Helped him inside. “I’ll wait here” she said as he waited his turn in line to talk to the beleaguered nurse behind the admittance desk.

Vincent shuffled over to where she was sitting “you don’t have stay.”

“I don’t mind” she said looking up from the book she was reading “I have plenty of things to keep me occupied.”

Vincent nodded noticing for the first time the book bag lying next to her feet. With a groan he leaned back wishing he had left when Ryan had left the night before.

They sat in silence for several minutes each pretending the other wasn’t there. Vincent heaved a loud sigh a he leaned his elbows on his knees mumbling “I can’t do this.”

“Can’t do what?” she demanded laying her book aside.

“This” he waved a hand around “I thought I wanted fun and games. No commitments. It’s just not me.”

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“Vince I…” she gulped, heart pounding in her chest.

“I know you don’t want commitments. You like having a different guy on your arm every night.” He gazed across the full waiting room wishing he were any place else. “I can’t do that. I want someone to look at me like I hung the moon. Someone who see’s me. Wants me.” Shaking his head “I don’t know maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I…just forget it.”

He got up and shuffled towards the water fountain. Trinity watched him go. Her eyes never leaving his back. What was she supposed to say? She couldn’t just change her mind about her feelings about relationships, could she? Admit she wanted a steady one guy committed relationship. Besides that would he even believe her? The entire thing made her feel slightly nauseous.

She watched as he took a seat on the opposite end of the waiting room. Glumly she glared out the nearby window. A young couple with a baby stood on the sidewalk. Balloons with congratulations written on them fluttered in the air above their heads. Their smiling happy faces a contrast to the gloomy gray skies. Had her parents been like that when they brought her home from the hospital? What had gone wrong between them? Was hat what she was running away from all this time?

Turning from the window she gazed across the crowded waiting room. A part of her longed for that kind of relationship. Someone to call her own. What was holding her back from taking what she wanted? Fear. Fear that she’d get hurt. Hurt the way she had been when she lost her horse. She never wanted to experience that kind of loss again.

She stooped to gather her things. Standing she made her way towards Vincent. He sat with his head down staring at the floor. Taking the empty seat beside him. She stared at him willing the words she wanted to say to just come out her mouth.

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Vincent rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably aware of Trinity’s presence.”What do you want?” he grumbled eyes focused on his toes.

“I…” the words got stuck in her throat. Taking a deep breath she tried again “Vincent I might want to …”

“Vincent Rake,” a nurse called from the admittance desk.

Vincent stood up hesitantly beside her “you might want what?”

“Never mind. It can wait,” she waved him forward “you shouldn’t keep them waiting.” She could see the hesitancy in his eyes. “Go” she repeated “I’ll be here when you get out.”

Nodding he walked towards the nurse. He glanced back before going through the emergency room doors to see the doctor. He had the feeling he was missing something.

***

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Hannah woke up feeling as if she had been wrapped up in a comfortable cocoon. A small smile fluttered across her face as she closed her eyes snuggling into the side of the person beside her. Their arm moved, falling across her. The events of the night before flooded her mind. She shivered as if from cold and his arm tightened around her.

“You cold” his groggy voice asked.

“No” she smiled snuggling into him. She wasn’t cold. It was the same feeling she had the night before. The one that kept her from wanting to be alone. She kept feeling the hands of her attacker. She hadn’t needed protecting. She had been enough. She had kept her head. She had been afraid. Who wouldn’t be?

Her dad’s insistence that she learn to protect herself had paid off. He’d be so proud of her. She brought a hand up to her eyes. Wiped a stray tear away. She’d never be able to tell him. His gentle sensitive nature would never be able to cope with it. She didn’t want him to be in turmoil because of her. She didn’t want him to worry about her anymore than he already did.

Rory on the other hand would take it in stride. He’d be concerned. He’d worry. He’d be confident his little girl could look out for herself. She looked up to find Donovan leaning on one hand starting down at her. “What?” she asked irritation plain in her voice. She hated waking up early and after last night she hadn’t slept well.

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“You’re crying” he gently wiped a tear away “do you regret staying the night?”

After Donovan had walked her home she had been shivering so much he had led her to his room. Wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and held her until the shivers stopped. She had seen Eddie in enough anxiety attacks to recognize the signs. Donovan had done everything Rory had done for her dad. She felt so weak and fragile. “Just hold me” she requested the same as she had the night before.

Donovan moved around in the bed pulling her close. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead “you have nothing to fear. No one will hurt you.”

She let herself relax into him. Closing her eyes she listened to his steady even breathing. “I wish you could meet my parents,” she said wistfully “they’d like you.”

Her head bounced on his shoulder “I doubt that,” he chuckled “most parents; especially dad’s don’t like me.” Silence fell between them. He stroked her long blond hair breathing in the light strawberry scent of her shampoo. “Besides I thought you didn’t like me.”

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“I don’t” she readily agreed.

“Then why would you want me to meet your parents?” he asked curiosity lased his words.

“Are you still mad at me for how I reacted yesterday?” she asked turning in his arms to look up at him “I am sorry.”

“No I’m not mad” he squeezed her tight “it’s just” he stopped staring across the room a perplexed look in his eyes.

“it’s just what?” she prompted.

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“We’re from two different worlds,” he finally said sitting up pulling his knees to his chest “we see the world from different eyes.”

“Don’t say that” she cried “we’re not that different. I well I don’t know anything about hacking or…”

Shaking his head he interrupted her “you’re the good girl my mom always hoped I meet. The one she hopes will make me want to mend my evil ways.” He glanced away not wanting her to see how conflicted he felt about what he was going to say next. “We just won’t work. I’m the bad boy. Not the kind of guy you take home to your parents.”

“No” she protested with force. “You don’t get to break up with me. Not like this. You’re too busy pretending to be the bad boy that you don’t see how much you’ve changed.”

Amusement made his lips twitch. “Oh I think I know myself pretty well.”

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“Really?” she challenged eyebrows arched “the bad boy would have taken advantage of the damsel in distress. I practically threw myself at you last night begging you to have sex with me but you didn’t. Instead” her eyes locked with his “you held me in your arms until I fell asleep. You were the perfect gentlemen.”

He broke eye contact with her “it’s not like I didn’t want to.”

“That’s what makes you different” she asserted “the bad boy wouldn’t have hesitated. You did. Even hacking you do it with a purpose. To help someone out of a bad situation like Waylon. If you were really a bad boy you’d be making yourself rich.”

His hand moved across his rumpled blankets. Smiling when he felt Hannah take it. “You sound so sure of yourself. Why? I could be manipulating you. Tricking you.”

Shaking her head she lifted his hand to her lips “you’d have done that already. I think I’m the only one you’ve ever let see who you really are.” She leaned her head to the side watching him “I think that scares you.”

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“Nothing scares me” he bluffed “least of all a green-eyed blonde little girl.”

“I see you and that’s what scares you” she bit her lip “please say you’ll come to meet my dad’s.”

“Dads?” his voice sounded stressed “I’m awful with just one dad but two. I don’t know.”

She nodded “just don’t mention what happened last night. My dad will freak out.”

“Why?” he asked meeting her gaze “you handled yourself well. You didn’t need me or anyone to rescue you. I’d think they’d be proud of you.”

 

 

Looking down she nodded “my dad Rory would be proud of me but daddy….” she sighed blinking back tears “daddy would freak out. He’s the one who insisted I learn to protect myself but he wouldn’t want to know I actually had to use it to save myself.”

“I think you wrong” Donovan squeezed her hand “but I promise I won’t tell him.” He leaned over kissing her lips at first soft and gentle than more passionately as she returned the kiss. His hands traveled down her body hiking up her dress.

She pulled back eyes sparkling dangerously. Batting his hands away she pulled her dress down. “You had your chance last night. Now you’ll just have to wait.”

He rolled over groaning “woman you’re going to be the death of me.”

Giggling she straightened her clothes before walking to the door. “I hope not. If you die now you’re going to miss out on a whole lot of fun.”

Chapter 27 – Homeward Bound / Chapter 30 – Don’t Need You

 

Hannah – Chapter 27 – Homeward Bound

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Wiping tears from her cheeks, Divia took a deep breath. He had to be alright she thought as she took off across campus. She made a list of the things she needed to do before she left. The professors she needed to contact regarding the papers that were due. It hardly mattered since she changed her major. Most of her classes she took this past year wouldn’t help her towards her goal.

Her feet seemed to have a mind of their own as she hurried towards her dorm. The peace she had found earlier was gone. A growing dread threatened to engulf her. What if her dad died? What if she was never able to tell him how much she love him?

She regretted all the years she had spent being in awe of him. Too afraid to displease him. She should have been more outgoing, more of the daughter he wanted instead of the one he didn’t understand. She had the uncomfortable feeling that she hadn’t been fair to him. She had been too ready to point the blame at him. To tell everyone how he didn’t understand her. She hadn’t tried to understand either. She may never get a chance to show him how much she cared about him.

She burst into her room. The door banging loudly into the wall behind her. Teasha jumped up eyes puffy and red. Identical to how Divia was sure she looked like. “What happened?” they cried together.

“You first” Divia said closing the door. Concern for her friend overriding her fears about her father.

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Teasha took a deep breath before opening her mouth to respond. Only sobs came out. Divia moved across the room wrapping her arms around the girl. “It’ll be ok. Whatever it is it’ll be ok.”

Shaking her head Teasha gulped “no no it won’t.” She clung to Divia. Her fingers digging into her back “he’s dead….”

“No he’s in surgery” Divia protested “mom would have told me if he had died.”

“I heard it” Teasha gulped “on the radio.”

Stuffing the panic rising inside her Divia frowned. “Why would my dad’s accident be on the radio?”

“What accident?” Teasha sniffed hearing Divia for the first time since she came home.

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“My dad” Divia repeated “was in a bike accident. He’s in surgery. He might not make it. I have to go home.”

“I’m so sorry” Teasha stammered “I didn’t know.”

“Who were you talking about?” Divia asked as dread filled her as Teasha pulled away from her. She could see the distress written all over her friends face. Holding her hand around the girls face “it’s not Zach is it? He wasn’t in an accident was he?” Panic filled her voice as a hundred different scenarios played out in her head.

“No not Zach” Teasha shook her head . “Phoenix his….” she gulped or air “his plane went down over the ocean.”

“Oh honey” Divia pulled her close letting Teasha cry on her shoulder “I’m so sorry.”

***

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An hour later Teasha raised herself from her bed. Sniffling she wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I’m coming with you.”

“What about class?” Divia asked from her side of the room “don’t you have a test next week?”

“I wont be able to concentrate” the girl complained.

“Honey don’t throw your education away” Divia said coming to sit beside the upset girl. Handing her a Kleenex she continued “going home won’t make you feel any better.”

“I know” she blew her nose “I wish there was something I could do.”

“The best thing you can do is to stay in school,” Divia said “I have to home. Mom needs me.”

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“You’re right but what if he’s…” she stopped shuddering. “I never got to tell him how much I loved him.”

“I know honey” Divia rubbed her friends back. “You have to accept this is why he broke up with you before he left. He didn’t want to put you through this pain.”

“It didn’t work” she sniffed. “I’m still hurting. Still waiting to know if he’s alright. I can’t just turn my feelings off.”

“Then prove to him that you can be a good military wife.” She spoke with a firmness she seldom showed. “Pull yourself together. Do what needs to be done.”

Teasha looked up through her tears “you’ve changed.”

Shrugging Divia glanced away, “not really. I’ve been to unsure of myself and what I wanted to be myself. It’s time I took control of my life. I can’t wait for someone else to hang the moon for me.”

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“You can’t give up on love either” Teasha protested letting concern for her friend rise above her own misery.

“Oh I won’t” looked at her hands “it’s just not a priority anymore. I have to find happiness within myself first before looking for it in someone else.”

“I’m sorry” Teasha mumbled getting up to help Divia pack. “I’ve been a terrible friend. So wrapped up in my own problems. I didn’t even ask you about Marzia.”

“There’s not much to tell” Divia said softly. “She left and I don’t know why.”

“I’m sorry” Teasha squeezed her tight. “I should have been a better friend.”

“Don’t worry about it” Divia sniffed “it’s not the end of the world.”

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“If you need to talk” Teasha offered “I’m here.” Looking at the boxes “how are you going to get home?”

“Rent a car I guess” Divia shrugged “I haven’t given it much thought.”

“I’ll drive you” Teasha said “no objections. Tomorrow is Friday. I don’t have class until Monday. I’ll go for the weekend. Visit my parents. Hopefully stay busy so I don’t think too much.”

“I accept” Divia said relieved that detail was taken care of. “You should tell Zach you’re leaving.”

“Maybe he’ll want to come with us” Teasha smiled “I doubt it though.”

“At least offer” Divia sighed wishing she had siblings to share in this crisis.

***

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Teasha knocked on her brother’s door. “Zach you in there?” she put an ear to the door listening for movement. Frowning she lifted her hand to knock again. It sounded like someone was crying or moaning. “Zach” she shouted pummeling the door “let me in.”

She fell forward when the door was jerked open. Waylon stood in front of her, hair topsy turvey, shirt untucked and ripped. “Is that blood?” Teasha demanded staring wide-eyed at his appearances.

“It’s not mine” he mumbled.

“Zach” she cried pushing past him “where’s Zach?”

Waylon slapped the door following her. “He doesn’t want a lot of fuss.”

“He’s hurt” she pointed at the blood stains on Waylon’s shirt “where is he?”

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“I’m taking care of him” Waylon glared at her.

“He’s my brother” she shouted whirling around confronting the man. “I want to know what happened.” She stared at the young man standing in front of her. The grazed bruised knuckles on his hands. The blood stains on his shirt. His insistence that Zach was ok made her wonder. What if this seemingly nice guy had hurt him. “I’m not leaving until I see him.”

“I didn’t…you think…” Waylon seemed to wilt in front of her. “I would never hurt him.”

“Why won’t you let me see him?” she demanded “he’s been hurt before by someone he thought loved him.”

“He’s in the closet,” Waylon waved towards the door “he won’t come out. He crawled in there as soon as I got him home.”

“What happened?” she demanded walking towards the door. She choked back a sob upon what she saw. The last time Zach had crawled into a closet and refused to come out was right after he came home from the hospital. She had found him in his bedroom closet crying. The closet had become his safe place. The place he retreated to when the world became too much to handle.

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“Dexter Gage happened” Waylon shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m gonna kill him.” He strode towards the door slamming it shut behind him sending a few pictures crashing to the floor.

Teasha stared at the door stunned by the raw anger that washed over her. Turning back to the closet she knelt beside her brother who was curled up into tight ball on the floor. “Zachie” her voice squeaked as she pulled him to her.

“I want to go home” he mumbled “please take me home.”

“If that’s what you want,” she rubbed her hands along his back feeling the sobs rocking his body. “I’ll help you pack.” There was no point in arguing or demanding he talk to her. He would tell her what happened eventually in his way in his own time.

“Thank you” he mumbled following her out of the closet.

She gasped upon seeing his battered face in the light. Blood dried cake on one side of his face. His bottom lip was swollen. When he talked she could tell he hand some broken or loose teeth. “Did he do that to you?” her hands shook. She wanted to follow Waylon and make sure he gave Dexter exactly what he had coming to him.

Tracing a hand across his face Zach winced. “I’m ok,” his voice flat emotionless.

“No you’re not” she walked towards him “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“No” he jerked away from her. His words slurred from the swollen lip “home. I want to go home.”

“We’ll go home after you see a doctor” she took his arm “I promise we’ll go home tomorrow.” She steered him towards the door.

Shaking his head he started to back away “no. No I won’t go. It’s not safe.”

“Zach please” she pleaded as he retreated towards the closet. At least let me clean you up a bit.”

***

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Twenty minutes later she had gotten most of the dirt and blood removed from his face. In the back of her mind she hoped that Waylon had found Dexter and given him a beating within and inch of his life.

“I’m sorry” Zach said speaking for the first since she began.

“It’s not your fault” she assured him

He shuddered “if I had done was I was told.” He stopped glancing away.

Teasha wanted to shout at him to tell him to talk to her. She knew that would have the opposite effect on him. She willed herself to be patient. She had to let him tell her in his own way in his own time.

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“He he dragged me with the bushes” Zach began again shivering “he he….kkkkissed me.” He lifted his eyes. “I told him to stop.” Tears rolled down his cheeks “I begged him to stop.”

“I’m going to kill him” Teasha cried repeating the same words Waylon had as he ran from the room earlier. How could someone like that exist? How could he claim to love someone then terrorize them? It didn’t make sense. Her brother wouldn’t hurt a fly. He didn’t deserve this. No one did.

“I…I hit him” his voice broke through her dark thoughts “I wanted him to stop.” He stared at his hands. “I just kept hitting him and hitting him.” He took a gulp of air “I hurt him. I couldn’t stop hitting him.”

“Zach honey” Teasha took a mirror from her bag. “Look” she demanded holding the mirror out to him “it was self-defense. Dexter hurt you too. He would have done worse if you hadn’t stood up for yourself.” She watched him as he explored the bruises on his face. “It’s not your fault,” she repeated.

“I just” he swallowed “I didn’t think…”

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She could see the tears building behind his eyes again “it’s alright. It’s a terrible thing what he did to you. I’m so proud of you.”

His light blue eyes moved towards her “proud of me?”

Nodding she squeezed him tight “you fought back. You refused to be a helpless victim. You are so much more than you believe.”

He gave her a lopsided grin. He had never seen himself like that before. “Waylon…where is he?”

“I don’t know” she said.

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“He’s looking for Dexter isn’t he?” He staggered to his feet “we have to find him. He’s going to do something stupid.”

“Alright I’ll look for him” she assured him. She followed him towards the door.

“I’m with you” he asserted when she tried to stop him.

“Absolutely not,” she protested pushing him lightly towards the bed. “I’ll find you. You stay and pack.”

***

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Zach sat on the bed staring at the closed door. Mustering all his strength he staggered from the room. He had to find Waylon before it was too late. He couldn’t let him do something he’d regret for the rest of his life. Teasha meant well but she didn’t know Waylon the way he did. Didn’t know that Waylon would do anything to protect him.

Heart pounding Zach stopped on the edge of the dormitory grounds. He stared across the road towards the bridge. He took several deep breaths before venturing towards the dark unlit field across the street. He was following his instinct that Waylon would be out there looking for traces of Dexter. He wouldn’t find any. He was sure of that.

The long grass rubbed against his pants legs leaving them damp with dew. Closing his eyes he listened for sounds that he wasn’t alone. A rustling to his left had him jumping backwards until he realized it was a small rodent moving in the long grass. Taking several deep breaths he continued towards the river’s edge. The last place he had seen Dexter.

A loud splash almost had him running for cover. A familiar voice demanded “what the hell are you doing here?”

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“Looking for you” Zach squeaked as he felt Waylon’s arms wrap around him. Soon he felt Waylon’s lips softly caressing the nape of his neck. His breath caught in his throat as he choked out “I love you.”

Waylon gently turned so he could bring his lips to the blond’s mouth. Careful not to move too fast or to hurt him. A soft moan escaped from Zach when Waylon pulled back to gaze into his eyes. “I was afraid I had lost you,” he ran his fingers through Zach’s hair.

“I’m here” Zach whispered resting his cheek against Waylon’s chest.

“Don’t ever leave me,” Waylon pleaded.

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“I wish I didn’t have to” Zach closed his eyes regretting his poor choice of words. Waylon’s arms dropped from around him. Zach walked towards the river’s edge sighing. How cold was the water he wondered? It was still early spring. Would it be cold enough to give someone hypothermia before they drowned? “I’m going home. I can’t stay here….”

“I’m going home too” Waylon put his arms around the blond again. He moved slowly knowing how easily Zach was startled. “My Uncle needs my help on the ranch.”

“This doesn’t have to be the end” Zach said turning in Waylon’s embrace. “We still have tonight and I could come to visit.”

Waylon chuckled a little the sound a little sad in the cool crisp air. “You’d never survive on a ranch.”

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“I could try” Zach murmured “I’d try anything for you.”

“No” Waylon shook his head firmly. “It wouldn’t do for either of us making drastic changes for the other.” As much as they both didn’t want to say it. It felt like goodbye.

“I know” Zach sighed tentatively putting his arms around Waylon’s waist. I placed soft kisses along Waylon’s neck and jaw line. “I want you to love me.”

With a low moan of assent Waylon gently guided them to the dew drenched ground. He hovered over the blond seeing the desire and acceptance in his light blue eyes before he lowered his mouth to Zach’s lips.

Chapter 26 – Goodbye / Chapter 28 – Almost