Jeff watched the young blue skinned woman as she stared vacantly at the computer screen in front of her. “I take it you weren’t able to convince my nephew to leave.”
She lifted anger filled eyes from the screen she had been staring daggers at. “No he refuses to leave. I…” She took a deep breath “I don’t know what else to do.”
“I could talk to him,” Jeff volunteered. He saw the look of gratitude in the young woman’s eyes. She slowly nodded even though they both knew Jeff would have no more success than she had. Jeff would be advocating a course of action he knew he wouldn’t be able to do if he were in Garrett’s position. He’d want to be by his mother’s side. There would have been nothing anyone could do or say to convince him otherwise.
“If you would that would be great,” she sighed indicating her mind had already shifted to something else.
Hesitating at the door Jeff asked “are you still trying to map out Kara’s life?”
Nodding “I have a feeling I’m missing something. If I can only find that missing piece I know we’d find Ian.” Her eyes went back to the computer screen, scrolling through the information she had gleaned so far.
“If you find something call me,” Jeff insisted his tone firm.
“I will don’t worry,” she mumbled without looking up.
“I mean it Verity,” Jeff said using the tone he reserved for his kids. The tone that said he meant business.
“I will,” she affirmed looking up at him “I promise.”
He held her gaze for a long silent moment before nodding, “see that you do.” He left with a feeling of unease settling over him like a cloak. He knew once she found something she’d be out there following the lead with or without backup. That was just the way she was. Who she was. For whatever reason she wanted to prove something when she didn’t have anything to prove at all.
Verity heard the door click shut as Jeff left the office. She hoped he’d have more success in convincing Garrett to leave with his grandparents than she had. Sighing she resumed her research. Her eyes were dry as if they had been glued open for hours if not days.
Shaking her head she pushed herself away from the desk. She was going about this all wrong. It had been a week since she had the epiphany to find out everything she could about Kara. It wasn’t working. Kara had covered her tracks well. Staring out the window she wondered what she was missing.
Grabbing her keys from the desk she decided she needed to drive. Clear her head. Let the information she had gleaned free flow through her consciousness. Traffic slowed to a crawl in the downtown district of Starlight Shores. Why had she gone this way? It was rush hour and everyone and their neighbor was trying to get home. A sign caught her attention. Tugging at her sub conscious. As soon as she could she turned around, retracing her steps until she passed the sign again. Big Brother/Little Sister volunteers needed.
OMG that’s it she thought. The key that was missing. She was positive she had found the key to finding Kara. Turning the corner she went around the block again. Drove slowly down the road. Ignoring the honks from motorists anxious to get home. She needed the number on the billboard. As soon as it came into view she jotted the number down on her hand.
As soon as she could she pulled into a parking lot. She took a moment to write the number in her notebook. Afterwards she took her phone out, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel waiting for someone to answer. “Hello how may I direct your call?” a bored voice said in her ear.
“Um yes can anyone sign up to become a big sister? Do you have some criteria you need to meet?” Verity asked.
“Anyone is welcome to sign up as long as they have the time to devote to the program,” the voice told her perking up a little. “Would you like to volunteer your time?”
“I’m not sure,” she hesitated “I’d like more information. My friend volunteers. She’s been trying to convince me that it’s a great opportunity to give back to the community.” She let her words hang in the air hoping the woman would enthuse about the work and mention their volunteers.
She wasn’t disappointed as the woman gave a glowing resume for Kara who seemed to be their most accomplished, caring volunteer. Too bad she came from such a dysfunctional family. Once the woman started talking it was difficult to shut her up. Eventually she wound down enough for Verity to assure her she’d be in later to sign up.
“Got ya,” Verity said aloud in triumph. She was going to set up a stake out and wait for Kara to arrive.
Garrett sat beside his mother anxious to spot any sign of response. It had been a week since they found her emaciated body. Three days since she woke up. A day since everyone left for Sunlit Tides. Everyone but him. He couldn’t go. He wouldn’t go. How could he? His dad was still out there some where. His mom was in a near catatonic state.
Her eyes were open but it was like no one was home. She was unresponsive, staring blankly ahead. “Mom please you’ve got to eat,” Garrett pleaded holding a spoon to her mouth “please for me. One bite.”
He could feel the hot stinging tears building up behind his eyes. Every day was the same. Him pleading with her to eat. Her staring blankly at him. He wanted his mother back. The same vibrant woman who brightened the room whenever she walked in. Sure she had made mistakes but who hadn’t?
Tossing the spoon aside he slumped into his chair. If she wouldn’t try, why should he? Immediate guilt swelled inside him. He was being impatient he knew. He wanted at least one of his parents to survive unscathed. He couldn’t face the probability that his dad was gone. Didn’t want to believe Kara could destroy all their lives like this.
He jumped at the now familiar touch on his shoulder. “How is she?” Verity asked her voice low, soft, caring.
Waving a hand towards his mom “unresponsive as usual.”
“It’s only been a few days,” Verity said trying to sound encouraging “don’t give up.”
Rubbing his eyes he let out a groan “easy for you to say. You don’t sit for hours hoping for any sign of improvement. I…I can’t take it anymore.”
Verity squeezed his shoulder before moving towards the bed where a middle-aged woman stared blankly at her. How would she feel if this was her mother? Verity lost her parents when she was young. She didn’t go through this agonizing wait. This pain of watching the person you love become someone you didn’t recognize anymore. Maybe she had been lucky to have her parents ripped from her life without warning. Watching Garrett go through this limbo of hope and despair was more than she could stand.
Picking up the discarded spoon she resumed cajoling the older woman into eating. She didn’t expect anything different from what had happened a hundred times before. “Garrett,” she gasped in surprise.
Looking startled he thought at first it was a dream. It couldn’t be real. “She’s doing it,” he said in shock “OMG she’s actually doing it.” He felt like crying, like running in circles and screaming all at the same time. It was the best thing he’d seen in a long time. His mother was eating. Opening her mouth, chewing and swallowing the whole kit and caboodle. Eating. She was eating.
She closed her eyes leaning her head back. She doubted she’d ever forget the way Garrett’s face lit up with hope. It felt like a major victory seeing Celia take her first bite. Verity hoped she’d bring in a home run when Kara led her to Ian.
Yawning she took another swallow from the lukewarm espresso she’d been sipping for the last few hours. Glancing at the time she wondered if she should have told Jeff what she was doing. The lead she found had proved useful. Kara went there at least two or three times a week.
So far in the three weeks since Verity had been following her, Kara hadn’t led her anywhere useful. Tonight seemed to be more of the same. Verity was about to call it a night when Kara emerged from the club. It was going to be tricky following her without drawing attention to herself. She kept several car lengths behind. It was risky to follow so far behind but preferable to alerting Kara to her presence.
When Kara drove slowly away from the city center towards the open rolling hills Verity knew this might be the break she was hoping for. She kept a keen eye on the red tail lights ahead of her hoping not to lose sight of them. She slowed down as Kara turned down a country road. Her eyes searched the darkness ahead of her desperate to find the glow of the tail lights she had been following. Nothing. Nothing but darkness.
She sighed in relief when she found the old mailbox hanging forlornly on its old post. She had turned down a driveway not a road. Somewhere along this long dark driveway was a house. This was what Verity had been hoping for. This could be where Kara had Ian hidden, held captive against his will. Searching the overgrown yard for a place to hide her car before she continued on to the house. She didn’t want to risk alerting her by driving down the driveway to the house.
Ian lay listless on the lumpy mattress waiting for oblivion to take him. He didn’t know how much more he could withstand. He could no longer remember the last time Kara’s visits didn’t end with him blacking out in excruciating pain. Some days she didn’t even come meaning days where he had nothing to eat but the water he drank from the sink in his dungeon.
Whenever she did come she had a crazed look in her eyes. A mixture of regret, fear, guilt and hatred contorted her normally beautiful features. She no longer demanded he repeat his words of endearment to her. Instead she looked like she wished he were dead. No remnant of the little girl he once loved was left in the woman she had become. He spent many hours wondering what had snapped inside her to make her what she was.
He cringed listening to the floor boards above him creak announcing Kara’s return. He continued to lie there unable to hide lacking the energy to confront her. Lack of food and constant beatings had left him weak.
The door banged open causing him to jerk in anticipation. He knew what was to follow. The pillow was yanked from beneath his head. “This is your fault” Kara snarled “I said I’d take care of you but you wouldn’t let me.”
She squeezed the pillow twisting it in her hands. Ian squinted up at her “I loved you like you were my daughter.” He reached a shaky hand up to wipe a stray tear from her cheek.
“Daddy,” she whispered her eyes softening for a moment. As if waking from a dream she shook her head, hair falling around her face, eyes growing cold, distant. “You should have let me take care of you,” she said as she pressed the pillow to his face.
Verity drove her car off the driveway into a clump of trees well hidden from the casual eye. She glanced at the time wondering if she should give Jeff a call. He’d be asleep and it would take time before he’d be able to meet her here. Time Ian might not have. Making up her mind she got out of the car careful to keep the door from slamming shut.
It was a long driveway close to half a mile. If it weren’t for the moon it would have been to dark for her to find her way. It gave her an uneasy eerie feeling as she jumped at every sound expecting Kara to find her at any moment.
The house was dark as she approached it. There was a shimmer of light around a boarded up basement window. If it hadn’t been so dark she would have missed it and wasted precious time she didn’t have searching the house. She entered the house as quickly and quietly as she could not wanting to alert Kara of her presence.
Her heart sank as the floor boards creaked beneath her feet. “Shit,” she muttered giving up all pretense of making a silent entrance. She ran for the open basement door where a light showed the way. She had to move quick if she had any hope of catching Kara.
She rushed down the rickety stairs grabbing for the railing as her foot fell through one of the steps. Heart beating fast she wondered why Kara hadn’t come for her yet. Had she already gone through some unknown escape route? Was Ian alright? Was he here? All these questions and many others crowded her mind as she reached the half closed-door where a bright light shone through.
Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes took in the situation. Kara was bending over someone on a bed. The face hidden beneath a pillow blocking off his air. The body struggled before going limp. “No” Verity screamed as she realized who it was.
Kara looked up as Verity came in. Smiling sweetly “you’re Garrett’s girlfriend aren’t you?”
“Step away from him” Verity demanded ignoring the question.
Looking down at Ian, Kara gently stroked his face. “I told him I’d take care of him.” She arranged his hands so that they crossed over his torso. Fluffing the pillow she carefully lifted his head to place it beneath him.
“Kara step away from him” Verity repeated taking several cautious steps closer. Her eyes scanning the room taking in the smashed wheel chair lying on its side. The heavy metal chain around Ian’s ankle. She tried to discern whether or not he was breathing.
Slowly Verity inched her way to Ian’s side. She kept a wary eye on Kara as she reached for Ian’s wrist to check for a pulse. “Don’t tough him” Kara growled.
Verity looked up yanking her hand back. Kara’s eyes danced in her head showing more whites than normal. “Nobody touches my daddy,” Kara announced as she took several steps towards Verity causing her to retreat.
“Kara he needs help,” Verity tried to step around her. To reach Ian but found herself in a precarious situation with Kara twisting her arm behind her back.
“He’s mine,” she hissed “not yours poor little orphan girl.”
Using the karate moves she knew Verity was able to break Kara’s hold on her. Kara’s words hurting more than she cared to admit. She thought she was over the pain of losing her parents but the sharp knife like pain assured her she was wrong. Kara gave her a triumphant smirk letting her know that she hadn’t been the only one doing research.
“Did you really think I didn’t know you were behind me the entire time?” Kara asked backing towards the door. Stopping in the door frame she gave Verity a challenging sneer “you should have called Uncle Jeff for backup. Now it’s too late.” Glancing at Ian a slight puzzled frown creasing her forehead “he really should have let me take care of him. I loved him so much.”
The past tense alarmed Verity as she ran for the door. She reached it in time to hear the lock click in place. Pounding on the door she screamed “Kara let us out. I’ll see that you get the help you need.”
“I don’t need your help,” Kara’s voice carried through the door. “You however do.” A pause ensued while Verity listened to a variety of sounds coming from the other side of the door. Ignoring it all Verity turned her back on the door and whatever Kara was doing.
Shaking she went to check on Ian who still lay motionless on the bed. Was he alive? Taking a deep breath she reached a hand out tentatively searching for a pulse.