It was touch and go for the first couple of weeks but Matt finally turned the corner for the better. He was still in a coma but the doctors were fairly confident he’d wake up soon. Ian still shook when he thought about how close it had been. The awful terrifying feeling that came over him when the alarms all went off. The machines that Matt had been hooked up to alerting the nursing station that he had gone into respiratory arrest. It was worse than the night his uncle died in Ian’s mind. This was his annoying little brother who was fighting to live. At that moment Ian felt a burning hatred for Malcolm who had done this to him. It was one thing to bully someone, to beat them up but to pump them so full of drugs that it almost killed them was something completely different.
Malcolm’s fingerprints were all over the syringe that Celia found in the bathroom beside Matt. Despite Malcolm’s lawyer’s attempts to paint Matt as a druggie he couldn’t get it to stick. There was simply no way Matt could have given himself the drug. The evidence was all pointing at Malcolm. They were still trying to trace where Malcolm got the drug but so far he had refused to talk even though he was offered a reduced sentence if he did. Ian had a theory on that but so far no one was taking him seriously. He told Corina Van Winkle the lawyer their dad retained and she said she would check it out but even she thought it was a little hard to believe the school nurse would be involved. Ian had to admit it was implausible but he kept coming back to her odd behavior and the fact that she seemed like she was looking for something. If not the syringe, than what?
The evidence was piling up against Malcolm but so far his lawyer had been able to keep him out on bail. Ian worried that Malcolm would try something to get at Celia to keep her from testifying but so far nothing. Ian just hoped Malcolm would be sent away for life. The real shocker of this whole ordeal was the involvement of Angelica Robinson. She had practically been a fixture at their house when they were little. Her and Matty used to be inseparable, the best of friends since the first grade. All that changed once they got to high school and Malcolm set his sights on her and the sweet little girl they all knew and loved disappeared.
Ian knew Angelica had been the one who had started the rumor that Matt was gay even though she knew it was a lie. In fact she and Matt had started to date before she dumped him for Malcolm. Since that happened Matt had started to doubt himself around her, stumbling over his words becoming nervous and awkward in her presence. Matt had tried so hard to get her to change her mind about Malcolm but everything he tried failed. He had become so worked up over it that he couldn’t sleep at night. Ian couldn’t understand why Matt wasted so much time on someone who didn’t appreciate him. He deserved so much better.
Angelica claimed she had no knowledge of what Malcolm was going to do to Matty. As far as Ian was concerned it didn’t absolve her of guilt. She set Matt up. Used his feeling for her against him. She knew enough to know that once she delivered him to Malcolm he was going to receive a beating. Ian hoped this would be the end to Matt’s crush on her and he’d be able to move on.
A noise as someone came into the room had Ian looking up and jumping from his chair yelling at the girl who had walked in “get out!”
She stood uncertainly in the doorway with tears streaming down her cheeks “I’m…I’m sorry…..” she stammered.
“You should be,” Ian choked out “it’s your fault. You set him up.”
“I didn’t know Malcolm was going to drug him,” she cried “I didn’t know.”
“Cry your tears some place else. Matty doesn’t need them.” Ian took a menacing step forward forcing Angelica to take a step back.
“I didn’t come to cause trouble…” she stammered.
Grabbing her wrist Ian suddenly pulled her forward over to Matt’s beside “I want you to take a good look at what you did. Look at him…you did this…”
Angelica stared down at Matty, seeing the ugly bruises that were beginning to fade. Hearing the machines he was hooked up to. She closed her eyes trying to blot it out. She remembered the first time she met Matt on the playground. She was the new kid. The one who didn’t have any friends. The one everyone picked on. She had been wearing her favorite pink dress. It had rained most of the day and they were outside for recess when someone ran up to her and pushed her down. Mud splattered all over her. She had sat there crying when a little pink-eyed boy came over to her asking if she was ok, making her laugh when he offered to be her bodyguard. That was Matty Bennett…”He always wanted to protect me,” she whispered aloud.
“And look where it got him,” Ian said angrily “he really liked you. He worried himself sick over you and look how you repaid him.”
“I never asked him to,” she cried turning towards Ian “I thought he’d give up when I started the rumors but he didn’t. He kept trying….he didn’t understand.”
“Understand what?” Ian asked “that you were Malcolm’s property. That he owned you.”
“Yes,” she hissed “I liked the attention and the power it gave me being Malcolm’s girl. I didn’t have to worry about being picked on anymore. I didn’t have to rely on Matt anymore for protection. Everyone feared me….everyone except Matty. Malcolm didn’t like that.” Looking up with pleading eyes she said “don’t you see I started that rumor about Matty to protect him? Malcolm was jealous….”
“Sell your sob story to someone who cares,” Ian scoffed crossing his arms “I know better. I heard Malcolm and Scott’s testimony….both of them said you explicitly told Malcolm that Matty wasn’t gay. That he liked kissing you. You wanted Malcolm to be insanely jealous. You wanted Malcolm to lose his head and hurt Matty. Why? All Matt ever wanted to do was help you.”
“Help me? Don’t make me laugh,” she rolled her eyes “he didn’t want to help me, not really. The one thing I asked of him and he refused me.” She glanced down at Matt a mixture of hate and disgust on her face “all he wanted was the mousey little girl I used to be.” Looking up at Ian “I’m not that girl anymore and she’s never coming back.”
Taken aback by her haughty attitude Ian said “Matt never asked you to change for him. He’d have loved you no matter what. He only ever wanted to help you.”
Shaking her head “no he didn’t, not really.” She wiped tears from her eyes turning to stare out the window into the parking lot. “I told Matty I was pregnant with Malcolm’s baby. I asked, no I pleaded with Matt to say it was his. I knew Malcolm would be furious when he found out I was pregnant but I thought that if I had Matty on my side Malcolm would concentrate on him….Besides my parents like Matt more than Malcolm.” She turned and glared at Ian “if Matt really wanted to help me he would have done this one thing for me but no he had to get on his high horse spouting nonsense about taking responsibility for my own mistakes….”
Looking down at his brother Ian found he had a new respect for him. He had thought Matt was a push over when it came to Angelica. “All you wanted to do was use Matty. He’s a good decent guy who would take care of you and the baby.” Shaking his head wondering what happened to her to make her so heartless “I’m glad Matty refused to help you. He deserves better than that. Better then you.” Ian could barely look at the girl he was so mad. He wondered why Matt never told him….looking up sharply as it came to him “you wanted revenge, didn’t you? That’s why you made it a point to tell Malcolm ….” he was interrupted when he felt someone take his hand. Looking down he found Celia beside him. He hadn’t even heard her come in.
“Yes,” she spat “I hoped Malcolm would hurt Matty. He needed to learn he couldn’t get away with refusing me.”
“He didn’t do anything to you. It’s your own fault that you’re with Malcolm. Your fault that your pregnant at fourteen. Just because Matt refused to be manipulated into playing daddy for your brat is not an excuse to blame him for your mistakes,” Celia said squeezing Ian’s hand.
“Says you,” Angelica glared at her “your just a nobody hanging onto the skirts of your Aunt’s fame. Your such a nobody that only your housekeeper knows or cares where you are. No wonder you’ve glommed on to the Bennett family. They are so good at taking in strays. I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I just needed someone I could dump the baby on. I wasn’t ever going to stick with the wimp….”
“Why are you here?” Ian asked growing tired of her.
“I don’t really know,” she moved towards the door working up tears as she went.
Moving towards the girl Celia thrust a box of tissues at her “dry those fake tears. Matt doesn’t need them.” Turning to Ian “she came because her parents made her…probably to apologize.” Giving the girl an accessing penetrating look she continued “you better not think you can walk out of here and tell your parents that Matt’s the father of the baby your carrying. Ian and I both know that’s a lie and if that’s not enough a paternity test will certainly prove it.” Shocked Ian hadn’t thought of Angelica doing that. Trying to keep his feelings from showing on his face he walked up beside Celia throwing an arm across her shoulders. Angelica glared at her as she threw the box of tissues on the floor. Turning to run from the room. “She’s a real piece of work,” Celia said turning to Ian.
“I had no idea any of this going on. I knew Matty’s been under a lot of pressure but I had no idea the extent of it. Angelica used to come over and play almost everyday when we were kids. I can’t believe she’s changed so much.” He ran his fingers through his hair “no wonder Matt tried so hard to get her away from Malcolm. He was so torn up when she dumped him for Malcolm.”
“Ian we need to tell the lawyer about her visit. I’m sure there’s more to it then what it appears,” she suggested.
“Yeah you’re probably right. This is just going to tear my parents up even more. They really cared about her. Mom used to believe that Matt and Angelica would grow up and get married one day.” Ian sat down leaning his head back closing his eyes. “I don’t know how much more they can take…”
Sitting beside him Celia said “Ian I know you’re close to your parents but they don’t need you protecting them…”
Sitting up he gave Celia a blank stare. Shaking his head “that’s not what I’m doing. Sure I wish this hadn’t happened. No one wants to see their parents hurt but I would never shield them from the truth no matter how unpleasant. If anything dad wants to shield me from it but knows I won’t stand for it.”
Breaking eye contact Celia stood up and took a few steps away “you live such a sheltered life Ian. How could you possibly know what’s it like to live out in the real world?”
“Just because I have a loving caring family doesn’t mean I don’t know what the real world is like. That I don’t see the ugliness …. I haven’t been wrapped in tissue paper and set on a shelf somewhere.”
Laughing “Ian I bet the first thing your parents wanted to do when all this trouble with Malcolm started was to put you in a private school. It’s what over protective parents do. I’ve met your parents. Your dad seems real nice but your mom doesn’t live in the real world…”
“Celia,” Ian said sharply “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my brother but I think it’s time you left.” He stood and walked over to Matty’s beside ignoring her baffled look of astonishment.
“What? I don’t understand,” she stood up and walked over to Ian putting a hand on his shoulder. She felt the tension in his muscles “what did I do?”
“That’s the problem Celia you don’t know. You don’t know me or my family. You’re just like the rest of them. Assuming you know from outward appearances or the things you’ve read in the tabloids that you know but you don’t.” He glared at her as he tried to reign in his anger. He thought she was different but it seemed he was wrong.
Standing there with her mouth open Celia snapped it shut, turned on her heel and walked from the room. Standing in the hallway she wondered what she had done. She hadn’t meant to offend him. So what his parents are over protective. It was a little weird to her that they all stuck together like they did, even the more feisty twins. A stray tear rolled down the side of her nose surprising her. She hadn’t expected to like the Bennett family; especially Ian. She always found families a bit claustrophobic, always in each others business. There was no way Ian could possibly know what it’s like to live in the real world where parents abandoned their children. How could he? He lived in a bubble of lollipops and rainbows. What happened with Malcolm was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. How could he possibly ever understand her? She had no idea what a real family was supposed to be like…
Turning blindly she knocked into Gene who was on his way into Matty’s room. “Are you ok?” Gene asked concerned.
“I’m fine,” she said brusquely.
Giving her an appraising look Gene shook his head “no I don’t think so.” Taking her by the elbow he guided her towards a quiet corner in the waiting room.
“Gene where are you going?” Aimee called after him.
“Celia’s upset,” Gene smiled at her “go ahead and visit with the boys.”
Nodding Aimee let him go knowing he meant for her to detain Ian for a while so he could talk to Celia.
“Ok tell me what happened,” Gene instructed.
“There’s not much to tell,” Celia said “we’re from two different worlds.” She looked away refusing to look into his kind gentle eyes that would only remind her of the only boy she had ever liked.
“Oh I see,” Gene said moving to get up.
“You see what?” Celia snapped.
Shrugging Gene said “I see someone who thinks she knows my son but doesn’t. I see someone who assumes he couldn’t possibly know that the world can be a cruel place. A place where parents leave their children, where friends back stab their friends … I think you believe Ian lives a sheltered life.”
“I suppose your going to tell me he doesn’t,” Celia said her tone belligerent if not a little hostile. “How could he understand someone like me? My mom died when I was nine. My father didn’t want me. I live with my famous Aunt who can’t remember who I am most of the time.”
Gene chuckled as he said “Celia you present a lot of prickles but I think you’re intelligent enough to know that assumptions cause a lot of problems that could easily be avoided if people just spoke to each other.”
“I’m not assuming,” Celia contradicted “I know we’re from different worlds…”
Looking at her Gene silently shook his head “haven’t you heard don’t judge a book by its cover?” He moved to get up sensing he wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. Pausing halfway up he said “what if I were to tell you that when Ian was six years old a woman tried to kidnap him and his brother? Then when he was 10 years old he watched his Uncle bleed to death after his ex-wife shot him.” Gene stood up “so yes Celia I believe your assumptions are dead wrong about my son.” Taking a few steps away Gene stopped and turned “so forgive me if I try to shield my boys from anymore shit happening to them because they’ve been through enough.”
Stunned Celia watched Gene walk away with a noticeable limp wondering when he had acquired it. She had assumed it was from an accident while he was performing but now she wondered. She had been wrong about a lot of things. No wonder Ian had been upset. She had been judging him. Assuming things. Would he forgive her? She didn’t want to lose her best and only friend.