Carson felt out-of-place among Britland’s family. It’s like he had this secret weighing on him that kept him apart from everyone else. He could feel the steady gaze of the young teen girl who sat beside him. Ariel took his hand leaning into him, seeking comfort that left him feeling inadequate to give. His thoughts turned to the letters he had found in Britland’s room. The same questions cycling through his brain. Should he tell someone about them? He glanced up as an older couple entered the waiting room. He guessed the woman was relative, she had the distinctive features of an alien. The same as Britland had.
“Mom. Dad” Robbie cried rushing to them throwing his arms around them. “This is Carson” he said introducing him “these are my parents, Britland’s Grandparents.”
“Carson Ratcliff” Shon’s eye’s brightened with interest.
“Yes sir” Carson moved to stand up jostling the girl beside him.
“Grandma” the girl cried as if waking up and realizing they were there. She threw herself into the older woman’s arms sobbing.
“Let’s go over there where we can talk” Shon suggested.
Carson followed the older man, stomach twisting into knots. What had this retired investigator been told about him? Had he done a background check on him? What had he found? He tried to think of anything he might have done in the past that might be a matter of concern for the older man.
“Relax son” Shon smiled warmly at him attempting to put him at ease.
He gulped, shoving his hands inside his pockets afraid the tremors he felt would give away how nervous he felt in the man’s presence. “Sir” he asked in a high-pitched squeak.
“Take it easy” Shon grinned. “I’m not going to bite.” His words had little visible effect on the nervous young man before him. Scratching his head Shon sighed “Britland asked a favor of me not long ago.”
“A favor sir” he asked “did he tell you about the person who had been sending him threatening letters?”
Shon looked at him sharply, heart beating rapidly “what letters?”
“Um yeah” Carson stuttered realizing his mistake.
“Spit it out” Shon commanded using his official tone he had perfected over the years.
Reaching into his inside vest pocket Carson took out the bundle of letters he had taken from Britland’s room. “I found these while I was looking for contact numbers” he explained. “I didn’t know what to do with them. I hoped maybe Britland had…” he shrugged. It was obvious that Shon had no idea what the letters were by the way he was pouring through them.
“Do you know if he had received any calls or texts from this person” Shon asked after several minutes of reading through the disturbing letters.
“He might have…I mean he never said but there were times he looked upset after receiving a call.” He shrugged uncomfortable beneath the steely blue glare of the older man “I have his phone if you want to look through it.”
Shon simply held his hand out waiting for Carson’s to hand him the phone. Silently he tapped buttons, swiping through the screens like he knew what he was looking for. Grunting he glanced up at Carson “this is disturbing to say the least. Whoever is the author of these texts and letters has been doing it for months.” Lifting a letter from the bundle “it apparently started before he left Riverview.”
“Do you think he’s in danger” Carson asked feeling like his heart was being squeezed painfully in his chest.
“I think” he lifted pain filled eyes to look straight into Carson’s “I need to talk to the police in charge of the investigation.”
Carson swallowed watching the older man walk away. His feet felt like he was wearing cement blocks. He couldn’t move no matter how much he willed himself to move. Through a haze he watched Shon stop briefly to kiss his wife’s cheek and whisper in her ear. Turning to his son he pulled him aside for what appeared to Carson as a painful conversation. Watching he could feel his body trembling with shock. He should have done more to protect Britland he chastised himself. He was hurt and it was all his fault. An anguished sob broke from deep within him.
The next thing he knew someone had thrown their arms around him holding him tight while he sobbed onto their shoulder. He couldn’t hold it inside any longer. The fear. The guilt. The pain. “I’m sorry” he sobbed to whoever was holding him.
“It’s ok man” a familiar but surprising voice said in his ear “I love him too.”
Sniffing Carson pulled away from the pink haired jerk who had given him nothing but grief since the day they met. “Thanks” he mumbled wiping his eyes on the back of his sleeves.
“Any time” he looked over his shoulder somewhat awkwardly “um you see I…” he expelled a deep breath “you see I’m really” he scratched his head looking towards Crystal who waved her hands in a go on motion. “I’m sorry for giving you so much guff when you got together with Brit.”
Carson blinked. He never expected for Felix to apologize and he was sure he heard wrong. “What” he mumbled.
“I’m sorry” he repeated “for giving you such a hard time. You were…I mean are the best thing that could have happened to Britland.”
“Err” he shuffled his feel a little unsure what he should do or say.
“Don’t fall over in shock or anything” Felix warned “I don’t apologize to just anyone.” He smiled giving Carson a glimpse of the person Britland insisted was his best friend, “this is a once in a lifetime thing.”
“Don’t believe him” Crystal said coming up behind them “once you start to apologize the next one gets easier.”
Both men gaped at her like she had grown a second head. “We’ll see” Felix smirked at her content for once in his life.
“Yes we will” she said firmly pushing him away as he attempted to kiss her cheek. “We’re not there yet.” She giggled at his woe be gone face. “Carson Mrs Olivia asked me to come get you. She’d like a work with you.”
His heart skipped a beat as he glanced across the expanse of the waiting room. He felt disconnected to his feet that were propelling him forward. He stopped a short distance away waiting for her to notice him.
“Carson” the way she said his name made him feel about two feet tall.
“Ma’am” he mumbled waiting for her to continue.
“It has to be you sending my son those threatening letters” she accused causing several heads to turn in their direction.
“I’m sorry….what” he asked dumb struck “I’d never do that.” He swallowed feeling nauseated at the mere thought of doing something like that.
“Honey” Robbie said hurrying over to them. “Carson didn’t even know Britland when the first note was received.”
“Then who” she demanded her voice rising as hysteria tried to take control of her.
“I don’t know” Robbie hesitated casting his thoughts back to the funeral. “You don’t suppose it could be…”
“No it couldn’t” she shook her head “she doesn’t even know.”
“She could have heard about it at the funeral” Robbie pointed out reasonably.
“I shouldn’t have let her come to the funeral” Miranda cried “this is all my fault.”
Carson looked from one face to the next confused. He had no idea what they were talking about. “You know who has been doing this?” he asked after a few minutes had gone by in silence.
Before answering Robbie helped Miranda to a nearby chair. Turning to Carson he inclined his head motioning for him to follow “Miranda’s mother has a long-standing hatred of me.”
Carson stared at the older man as he absorbed the information. “Why Britland? If she hates you I mean…” he licked his lips nervously “if you’re the one she hates. Why take it out on Britand?”
“I wish I knew” Robbie glanced over his shoulder at his wife. “That woman did everything she could to break me and Miranda up. Including kidnapping her own daughter and trying to kill me.”
“I don’t understand” Carson felt swamped with conflicting emotions. Why hadn’t Britland confided any of this to him?
“I represent everything Miranda’s mother hates. I’m an ugly alien. The beast to Miranda’s beauty. Miranda had been entered into beauty pageants since she was a baby. It had been her mother’s goal for her to model after the pageants were over. I wasn’t part of the plan and when she became pregnant with Britland her mother was forced to admit defeat, tipping her over the edge.” Robbie shook his head dismissing the painful memories “Britland almost died the day he was born because of that woman.”
His story struck something deep inside Carson. He couldn’t imagine a world where the gentle mild-mannered blonde didn’t exist. “Britland never told me” his voice low and emotional.
“That’s our fault. We never discussed that time in front of the kids. All he knew was he was born premature. That it had been touch and go. He’s never met his Maternal Grandmother so he wouldn’t have known who she was.” Robbie sighed his shoulders slumping “maybe we should have told him. At the time it didn’t seem necessary. Miranda’s mother was locked up. We didn’t want to dwell on it.”
Carson could feel his blood boiling inside him as he listened to Robbie. How his hands clenched in fists as he wondered how things might have turned if that woman had killed all of them. He never imagined he’d meet anyone with a worse history than his own. “Do you think it’s her? That woman?” he demanded as Robbie finished speaking.
“My Dad will find out if it is” his voice was quiet, firm, confident.
Shon’s first stop was at the police department. He was greeted like a returning celebrity. He was ushered in to see the commissioner who stood up to shake his hand.
“This is an honor” the man said waving a hand to an empty chair in front of his desk. “Everyone here appreciates your many years of service to our fair city.”
“Thank you sir” Shon smiled taking the offered seat. “What can I do for you?” the Commissioner asked.
“I’d like some information on the incident that happened at the modeling agency. The studio to be precise.”
The man steepled his hands in front of him. His elbows resting on top of his desk “what is your interest in that unfortunate accident?”
“Is it definitely an accident then? No sabotage” Shon persisted pressing for answers.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss an ongoing investigation” the commissioner gave him a blank uninformative stare.
“Please sir I’d appreciate any information you can provide” he requested refraining from making the request sound like the plea it was.
“What is your interest in it” the commissioner asked.
“My grandson was the one injured” Shon supplied hoping that this information might prompt the man to share what he knew.
“I see” the man leaned back in his chair “this is a personal request.”
“Exactly sir” he nodded hoping he didn’t appear too eager.
“Faulty maintenance” the commissioner supplied after glancing at a report on his desk. “The cable that held the beam up was rusted through. If gave way. A freak accident I’m afraid.”
“Thank you” Shon sighed in relief as he stood up from his chair. “I won’t take up any more of your time sir.”
“Any time” the man followed him to the door. “Was there a reason you thought it might not have been an accident?”
Shon weighed his options. If he disclosed the existence of the letters he relinquished control. Control he wanted in order to make his own investigation. “No sir” he said “I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t someone out for revenge and using my family to get to me.”
“A concern we all share” the man commiserated.
Shon thanked him again before leaving his office. He pulled his phone out once had walked about a block away from the police station. “This is Robert Olivia” he imitated his son’s voice “I’m checking on my mother-in-law Naomi Diamond.” He listened to the receptionist his anger growing inside him. Breaking through the well rehearsed diatribe “you can’t seriously be telling me you released her. By what authority did you receive the idea that she was stable enough to be released into the general public?”
He listened as the voice droned on attempting to explain “No I didn’t authorize her release. I did not receive any paperwork to sign.” He snapped his mouth shut as the voice became increasingly adamant. “I authorized a day pass for the funeral of my father-in-law, her husband about six months ago. Nothing more.”
His jaw clinched as a different voice took over from the frustrated receptionist. “Yes I’m upset my mother-in-law was released without my consent.” Once again he pressed his lips together as a bombastic voice spoke over him. “I don’t care if she fooled you into believing she was ready to be released you still required my or my wife’s approval.”
The same voice full of bluster and false bravado said that the woman deserved to be released despite the clerical mix up. “What the hell. Because of you my son has been terrorized by this woman. Don’t give me any shit about how she was ready to be released.”
He smiled grimly at the audible gulp from the bombastic man on the other end of the call. “Where is she now?” he barked imagining the man jumping in surprise.
Still fuming over the idiocy of the bureaucracy Shon made his way back to the hospital. He walked over to Robbie, whispered something in his ear. Nodding Robbie approached Carson. “We think we’ve figured out who has been sending the letters to Britland.”
“Is it….that woman” he asked refusing to call her Britland’s Grandmother.
“We think so. The hospital admitted to releasing her six months ago without prior approval from either me or Miranda.” Robbie glanced over at his wife and daughter a sad expression spreading across his features.
“Is she also responsible for the accident” Carson growled. His biggest fear was losing Britland before he had a chance to really have him. He hadn’t realized he had fallen so deep so soon.
Robbie smiled putting a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Dad checked with the police department and the accident is just that … an accident. Negligent maintenance. No foul play suspected.”
Relief flooded through him like a tidal wave. Britland was still just as hurt as he was before but somehow it felt better that someone hadn’t intentionally tried to kill him.
“What are we going to do about that woman” Carson hissed unable to contain his anger.
Glaring over his shoulder he smiled over at his wife. “We’re going to find her. She’s going back where she belongs.”
“Can I come with you” he asked “I can’t just sit here doing nothing. Waiting.”
“Alright” Robbie agreed “let’s go.”
Carson followed the older man from the hospital. He expected a long drive. Somehow he imagined the woman was in Riverview. He wasn’t prepared when they pulled up in front of a small pink house in the suburbs of Bridgeport. He could have walked past the woman any number of times without ever knowing it.
A frail elderly woman opened to the door to their repeated knocking. Her eyes locked onto Robbie “did the freak die then? To bad it wasn’t you.”
Her hostility and hatred washed over them in waves. Carson took a step forward stopping at the restraining hand on his shoulder. Turning he saw Shon, his light blue eyes flashing with cold hard fury. “That freak is my grandson” he snarled.
Her eyes danced wildly in their sockets. “It would have been better if he had died when he was born. Then the media wouldn’t be flooded with his freakish image.” She opened the door wide allowing them to see the interior walls of her home. It was plastered from top to bottom with pictures of Britland torn from magazines. “I had to stop him. My beautiful daughter lost everything she worked so hard to achieve. All her awards were for nothing.” She lunged forward hissing like a banshee.
Moving quickly Carson knocked Shon away from the woman’s outstretched hands. Just as quickly he pulled the woman’s arms behind her “call the hospital to come collect their missing patient.”
Nodding Shon stared at the woman for a moment before he reached for his phone. He made the call then moved to secure the woman with an old pair of handcuffs.
While they waited for the hospital to come collect their errant patient Carson paced the length of the small overgrown lawn. “Son” Robbie approached the anxious young man “why don’t you come in and sit?”
“No” shaking his head “I can’t go in there.” The images of Britland’s face plastered over every surface of the small house served as a reminder of what he might have already have lost.
“You love him don’t you” Robbie asked his tone gentle, his eyes kind.
“I want to marry him” Carson’s eyes grew large shocked with the admission. “I just don’t know how Britland feels about me.” The thought the blonde might not want him was too much.
“Give him time” Robbie suggested “he’s lived a sheltered life. Plus he’s still very young.”
“Am I rushing him” Carson asked alarm in his voice. “I don’t want to. I can go as slow as he needs. I just need…” He shook his head turning away unable to go on.
Nodding Robbie said “I understand. You need to know where you stand because right now you feel like you’re stuck in quicksand.”
“Yes sir” Carson mumbled misery in his lavender eyes. “I don’t know what else I can do.”
“You’re doing fine” Robbie reassured him putting an arm across his shoulders. “Just be there for him when he wakes up. He’s going to need you now more than ever.”
“You think he’ll get through this” he sniffed searching the older males eyes.
“I know he will” Robbie said firmly full of confidence. “He’s a fighter. Besides he has something to fight for.” He gave Carson a meaningful smile before going off to greet the ambulance driver who just arrived.