Gene squeezed his granddaughters hand as they landed in Starlight Shores. She turned to him eyes glistening with tears “what if…”
“Shh,” he silenced her “you need to think positively.” He watched as she nodded squeezing his hand in turn.
He longed to pull her in his arms like he did when she was little. He wanted to protect her from the awful truth. Her parents were more than likely dead. He could admit it to himself. He couldn’t shield it from himself. Someone had to look at the situation head on. If not him than who?
He was the back bone of the family. He was the go to guy when things fell apart. He lost his main support pillars a long time ago. It had come as a shock after Robert was killed that everyone sought him out for help. He had felt it coming on slowly the years Robert was in hiding. His siblings gravitating to him for answers when Robert was no longer there. Him the screw up of the family was suddenly the guy with all the answers.
He smiled fondly remembering his older brother. There wasn’t a day he didn’t miss his gentle guidance. His firm belief that he, Gene Bennett was capable of so much more than he realized. It was that belief that kept him going despite the many times throughout the years he felt like giving up. He hoped that wherever Ian was his brother and father were looking out for him.
He turned his head towards Aimee who laid a gentle hand on his forearm. The sadness in her eyes was like a physical blow. She knew he was bluffing when he told Katrina to be positive. She knew as well as he did that the chances of Ian being found alive were remote at best. She reached up and wiped a stray tear away that he didn’t even know had escaped. “I’m sorry” he whispered to her.
“I know,” she mouthed back leaning her head on his shoulder.
He kissed the top of her head, secure in the knowledge he would forever be her support.
“Dad,” a chorus of voices echoed in the small waiting room where everyone was waiting for them. Taking a deep breath Gene tried to brace himself as he heard himself ask “how is he?”
Silence greeted his question. He looked from one sad face to another. Matt cleared his throat “they just took him into surgery, intracranial bleeding.”
“Dad he’s going to die isn’t he?” Samantha sobbed as her dad pulled her close.
“That’s enough,” Gene said loudly to the assembled group “that’s enough talk about death and dying. From now on we’re only going to think positive thoughts.”
There were various nods and assertions from the group. Samantha looked up sniffling “I’ll try grandpa.”
“I know you will sweetie,” Gene held his arms out to the young woman. She ran to him sobbing on his shoulder. While he stroked her hair. Gene looked up to see Jeff walk in followed closely by a blue skinned young woman with red hair. Kissing his granddaughters cheek he said “I need to talk to your uncle.” Turning she nodded allowing her dad to lead her away.
Walking up to his nephew Gene asked “what do you know?”
Glancing behind the older man to the assembled family Jeff said in a low voice trying to keep the awful news contained between him and his uncle. “They found a body.”
Gene felt the air sucked from his lungs as if someone had punched him in the gut. A body…someone had been inside the house when the bomb went off. “Who?” he croaked finding it difficult to form the simple word.
“They don’t know yet,” Jeff took his Uncle by the arm leading him into the hall. “All they know for sure from the remains is the victim was female.”
“Oh god,” Gene leaned heavily into the wall “it’s Celia isn’t?”
“We don’t know for sure yet,” Jeff put a comforting hand on Gene’s shoulder.
“Who else could it be?” Gene could feel his control slipping away. He knew if Celia was in the house so was Ian. His son was dead. His grandson was slipping away. How was he supposed to be the pillar, the rock everyone needed him to be when he felt like he was standing in quicksand?
“Don’t give up hope,” Jeff encouraged “it could be the bomber for all we know.” He didn’t know why he said that. That desperate hope in his Uncles eyes was enough for him to regret his rash words. Even as the hope brightened his eyes it drained just as fast. Gene must have come to the same conclusion Jeff did. It would be too good to be true for it to be the bomber. If it was then where were Ian and Celia?
“That’s not very likely now is it son?” the gentle rebuke in Gene’s words and tone had Jeff staring at his feet. He wondered if his dad had been like this. As soon as he thought it Jeff regretted it. It felt wrong to compare the two men who had impacted his life so much. The one he lost three decades ago and the other was wasting away before his eyes. He was determined to find out what happened to Ian. He couldn’t rest until he did.
“No it’s not,” he exhaled loudly feeling like a deflated balloon “I’m sorry.”
Closing his eyes Gene willed the pain aside. He’d deal with it later when it was all over. Now he had to keep it together. To help the others through this tragedy. When he opened his eyes he found his nephew giving him a worried look “I’m ok son,” he assured him “just tell me what you want me to tell the others.”
Glancing towards the closed door Jeff sighed “for now nothing. At least until we have dental confirmation of who was in the house.”
Gene nodded as he felt the pain building in his chest, squeezing his heart, taking his breath away. He swayed on his feet clutching at his heart. He felt hands as his nephew kept him from falling. Dimly he was aware of someone yelling for help. His vision grew dark as the pain took over.
The low beeping of a nearby machine intruded upon his peaceful slumber. The sound of sniffling warned him someone was crying close by. Groaning he tried to move to find himself encumbered by tubes. A soft touch upon his shoulders eased him back onto the bed. “Gene please. Calm down,” Aimee’s voice had an immediate soothing effect on him. He opened his eyes searching for her.
She smiled as she took his hand kissing the palm “I knew you’d come back to me,” she said as tears rolled down her weathered cheeks.
“What happened?” he asked his voice shaky.
“You gave us quite a scare,” Aimee told him “You should have listened to me and gone in for your physical.”
“I don’t like doctors,” he muttered looking around him. His eyes widened as he took in the tubes that ran in and out of him in various locations. The soreness in his chest as if someone had ripped his chest open. The beeping of the heart monitor keeping track of his beating heart. He turned toward Aimee “what happened?” he repeated.
Picking at the sheets she replied “too much stress. Your heart couldn’t take it…”
“Heart attack,” he supplied himself. The frequent chest pains he had ignored had finally caught up with him. Swallowing he worked saliva around his dry mouth “how long?”
“Two days” she said knowing it would be useless to skirt the truth “we almost lost you. So don’t give me any bullshit about how we’re overreacting.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. Two days? “Garrett how is he?”
“He’s alright,” she sighed she knew the doctors had warned her against telling him anything that would increase his stress levels. She knew her husband. He’d lie here stewing over what might have happened if she didn’t tell him. He’d give himself another heart attack if she refused to tell him. “They got the bleeding stopped. There’s still some swelling and he’s still unconscious. The doctors are confident he’ll wake up soon.”
“What about brain damage?” Gene asked.
“We won’t know until he wakes up,” Aimee told him keeping her voice calm and steady.
“Have they identified the body yet?” he asked.
“The one they found in the rubble,” Gene turned searching her confused face “Jeff told me they had to do a dental match before they could ID her.” He watched her lips tremble as the tears rolled down her face. Realization dawned on Gene as he remembered his conversation with Jeff. He hadn’t told anyone about the body yet. “I’m sorry,” he tried to ignore the incessant beeping quickening as his heart rate increased.
A nurse charged into the room giving Aimee a withering glance “you were told to keep the patient calm.”
“I’m sorry” Aimee cried through her tears.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the nurse barked.
“Don’t go,” Gene pleaded.
“I’ll be back,” Aimee tried to smile as she got up to leave. “Get some rest” she leaned over kissing his forehead “I’ll be back” she repeated hoping she would be allowed back in the room.
Verity slipped into Garrett’s room while everyone was occupied with the grandfather. She moved with silent grace across the room. Sitting in the unoccupied chair she stared at the boy she had been watching for the past twelve months. What had she missed?
The question plagued her thoughts. She thought she was doing everything right. Obviously she had been wrong. Something had slipped past her. She took her job seriously. It was her responsibility to protect him. Had she become distracted by his growing feelings for her? Had her unacceptable, unacknowledged feelings for him blinded her to the lurking danger he was in?
When Jeffrey Bennett had approached her a year ago to offer her a position as body guard she accepted it. She needed the job. The bills were piling up since she had left Twinbrooks. She had no choice but to leave once the scientists had swooped in searching for clues as to where Jackson may have gone. They had interrogated everyone remotely connected to him.
She hoped he had gotten away and if she could help by being uncooperative that’s what she did. She hoped it was enough to buy him the time he needed to escape. She did what she could to misdirect them. It worked a little too well. When the scientists had let her go. They let it be known she was an unreliable detective who would lie to protect the criminal. No one would hire her after that. Not until she met Jeff.
She almost cried when Jeff asked her to join the team of body guards he was assembling to protect his cousin and family. It was only later she found out why he had hand picked her for the assignment. He was a relative of Jackson’s and one thing she had come to realize about the Bennett family is their loyalty to each other and those who help them. She promised herself that she would do her best to protect Garrett. It was the least she could do for the second chance to do what she loved most.
It was a shock when she realized how much she had come to look forward to talking to the boy she was to protect. Reluctantly she had come to the same conclusion that Jackson had of her. Her interest in Jackson had been to solve a mystery. It wasn’t what she thought it was. She had liked him, been attracted to him but it wasn’t the same feeling she had for Garrett.
How had an eighteen year old kid wormed his way into her heart? She had tried to remain aloof, only speaking when spoken too. All too often though she found herself responding to his playful banter and overt flirting. What difference did three years make? So what if she were older? She replayed their last conversation. She regretted telling him to look elsewhere. That she was too old for him. What if he died without ever having known how much she cared for him?
She reached over to caress his face. Silently she willed him to wake up. To open his eyes. “I have so much to tell you,” she murmured out loud “you have to wake up first to find out what.” She wiped tears from her eyes as she got up to go. “Your family needs you to wake up,” she whispered before she slipped from the room.
Shaking off the hands of concerned relatives Katrina found herself staring out the window. How could this be happening? She wanted to scream until someone would give her a reason. Why was this happening? Her husband and daughter were separated by miles of ocean from her. She had agreed with her grandfather that it would be better if they stayed in Sunlit Tides. She hadn’t wanted to give Kara anymore targets.
She rubbed her hands up and down her arms wishing August was there to wrap his arms around her. She longed to hear him say it would all be ok even if it weren’t.
She was so alone. Her baby brother was fighting for his life. His beautiful hair gone from all the surgeries. Would he ever wake up? Would he be the same when he did? She wanted to find someone to give her answers but no one could. All she could do was wait.
Even Grandpa had abandoned her. It had been so frightening to see him so frail. He seemed so small when all her life he had been so strong, so dependable. She couldn’t lose him too.
She didn’t have hope that she’d see her parents again. Not after seeing the house. She wished she had listened to Uncle Jeff and stayed here without seeing it. There was nothing left. There was only rubble. She shivered knowing her parents were among the bits and pieces among the rubble. There were gone. They were never going to find them.
Gene’s words echoed in her head. Looking up she found Jeff walking towards her. “Whose body?” she demanded
Caught off guard he asked “what body?”
“You know” she screamed “the one that was found in the rubble of my son’s house.”
“How did you know about that?” he asked taking the older woman by the arm escorting her into an empty room.
“Gene,” she said as her face contorted in pain “he wanted to know who it was. That’s what you were talking about before his heart attack. That’s what triggered it.” Her words dissolved into sobs “He’s dead isn’t he? My baby boy is dead.” She felt strong arms pull her close as she sobbed.
Jeff’s deep voice continued “it wasn’t him. It wasn’t Ian.”
“Then where is he?” she cried gripping his shirt “why hasn’t he been found?”
“I don’t know,” he told her. It almost killed him to admit that he didn’t know. Ian was his best friend since they were kids. They had done everything together. He wasn’t ready to admit defeat. He wasn’t going to lose another person he cared about. Not if there was something he could do to prevent it. “I’m going to find him.”
Breathing deeply Aimee let his words soothe her. She heard the determination in his voice. She believed he wouldn’t give up until every stone had been turned over. “The body was it Celia?” she asked. She had to know. The girl had been troublesome from the start but she had loved her son. She was the mother of her grandchildren. She was a part of their family.
“No it wasn’t her either” Jeff hated this part of the job. People looked to him for answers, for justice and sometime there just wasn’t any.
She looked up at him uncertainty in her eyes “if it wasn’t Celia, then who?”
“Let’s sit over here” he said helping her to a nearby chair. He took her hands in his “this is going to be difficult…”
“Just spit it out,” Aimee told him growing tired of him trying to shield her “you’ll wind up like your Uncle if you continue to hold all of this inside.”
He nodded looking down at their entwined hands. Taking a deep breath he looked up “it was Kara…”
“What?” Aimee cried “where’s Ian and Celia?”
“I don’t know,” he grabbed her and pulled her close as she started to sob. “We’re doing everything we can to retrace her steps up until she set the bomb. She has to have them somewhere.”
“You think she has them hidden some place. Some place only she knows.” She shivered in his arms “why did she kill herself if she had what she wanted?”
“I don’t think she meant to kill herself. The bomb was meant for Garrett. Something went wrong causing the bomb to go off early.” He hugged her “I promise I’ll find them.”