Tag Archive | Aimee Vera

Garrett – Chapter 22 – Let’s Make A Memory

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Aimee dabbed at her eyes as she forced herself out of bed. The bed that was suddenly too big, too empty. This was her life now. Breathing in and out. Existing. That was what her life had come down to. Existing. One painful day after another.

She let her body fall back onto the bed convulsing with sobs. “Gene” she called out his name into the silence of the room. She took his pillow breathing deeply of the remnants of his scent that still lingered there. The same scent she remembered from the first time he held her in his arms. She had been his life-preserver than. The anchor he needed to keep his life from spiraling out of control. She had helped him through that rough time. He was up for elimination on Sim Star Idol. He was sure he was going home a failure. One drink down ready for the next when she stopped him. He had been so vulnerable. So ready to self destruct.

Tears flowed onto the pillow where Gene had once laid his head to sleep. How long had it been? It felt like yesterday her life had been turned upside down, altered forever. Other times it felt like forever since she had seen his smile. “Oh Gene,” she mumbled into his pillow “I don’t want to be here without you. I can’t live without you.”

Her sobs filled the room. She could no more hold them back then a beaver dam could hold back a raging flood. Gulping for air her body trembled with her sobs. She put a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. To smother the pain of her shattered broken heart.

***

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Ian stood outside his parent’s bedroom door. Mother’s bedroom door he corrected himself. He wondered how long it would take him to adjust to the loss of his father. He rested his forehead on the cool uncaring wooden door. Heart beating in rhythm to his mother’s sobs on the other side of the door. He flinched as if someone or something was physically beating him each time his mother’s sobs reached his ears. His legs buckled beneath him leaving sprawled on the floor blocking the door. How much of this was his fault? The added stress from his supposed death had to have touched off a series of heart attacks that lead up to this father’s death.

His dad had always been larger than life to his eyes. The invincible hero. Always ready to help. Even if it meant just lending a listening ear. His dad had always been there. Through thick and thin. Through good and bad times. He couldn’t imagine a world without him in it.

He felt rather than saw when Celia joined him on the floor. He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. Her fingers ran through his short blond hair comforting and reassuring. “What am I going to do?” he asked like a lost little boy needing help to find his way home.

“We’re going to grieve. We’re going to mourn” she said stroking his hair “then we’re going to pick up the pieces. Put our lives back together again. Not because we want to but because we have to. We have to go on whether we want to or not.”

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“I know” he sniffed sitting up leaning his head against the door. The sounds of his mother’s grief tearing at his heart deepening his guilt.

“It’s not your fault” Celia said taking his hand “your dad would be the first one to tell you that.”

“I know” Ian closed his eyes. Knowing it and believing it were two totally different things.

“Come on” Celia said tugging on his hand as she stood up “let’s do something today.”

Reluctantly Ian allowed her to drag him to his feet. Every fiber in his body wanted to curl up in a corner somewhere and hide. He glanced back at the impassive door “we can’t just leave her like this. What if she needs us?”

“We won’t go far” Celia assured him not taking no for answer.

***

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Sniffling Aimee sat up wiping her hands across her eyes. She saw the damp spots on the pillow case where her tears had soaked through the fabric. Faint mascara smudges could be seen. She knew she should wash it before the mascara set in the fabric staining it forever. She should do a lot of things she had no desire or energy to do.

With determination she stood up to make the bed. She put Gene’s pillow back on his side of the bed mascara stains and all. If she washed it now she would lose his lingering scent. She couldn’t bear the thought that she would never see his smile again other than the myriad of photos around the house. Never feel his arms slide comfortingly around her shoulders. Never hear his deep voice whispering things to her that he knew would make her laugh at inappropriate times. His scent was already starting to fade. She wasn’t ready to let him go.

She struggled out of her pajamas. Her joints ached despite the comfortable temperature in the room. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons of her blouse as she tried to dress herself. The zipper was near impossible to maneuver on her own. Tears of frustration pricked her eyes. Such simple tasks. Everyday mundane things. She missed Gene’s assistance as she painstakingly finished getting dressed for the day.

As her arthritis worsened she progressively lost the dexterity she once had in her youth. A couple of years ago she made the decision to put away her gaming equipment for good. With Gene’s help it had been carefully stored away for when Trober was old enough to enjoy it. A smiled flickered across her face easing the line of grief around her eyes.

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Sitting on the edge of the bed she struggled to shove her feet inside her shoes. She wished Gene was there to help her. He always made the process bearable and somewhat sensual as he would rub her feet with his firm strong hands. Kissing her ankles the way she liked. He’d look up at her, eyes sparkling with mischief knowing what he was doing to her. Knowing it was driving her crazy with desire.

How long had it been since she had felt his hands stroking her desire? Too long. It had been years since they had been able to be intimate. Not from lack of desire. She couldn’t manage the pain. They had tried at first before the arthritis had gotten really bad. She regretted she just couldn’t hide the pain she was in. Gene didn’t force the issue just accepted the new circumstance and moved on.

Aimee smiled remembering the ways that Gene took to reassure her that he still found her desirable. Somehow he knew how afraid she was that he would lose interest in her. Afraid that he would find someone else. She should have known better. Their relationship had never been about sex. It was more than that. Sex had added to their bond. When that part of their bond together was gone they found other things that bound them together.

***

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Opening her bedroom door she was relieved to see Celia had managed to get Ian away from his post guarding her door. She loved that he was concerned about her. She could see the pain he was in. Could see the guilt in his light blue eyes. He blamed himself for Gene’s bad heart and he didn’t have to.

The heart problems began soon after their honeymoon. A constant reminder of what that crazy woman had done to him. Gene had persevered despite the permanent limp he acquired from the injuries he had received. It was the heart murmur that was the most worrying. The culmination of stress over the years since then had done its damage.

She took one painful step down after another until she reached her favorite room in the house. The room where she and Gene had made their own. It used to have all her gaming equipment in it. She’d play while Gene watched. More times than not she’d find his eyes on her instead of the screen.

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“What are you looking at?” she asked feeling self-conscious even after all the decades they had been together.

Grinning like the Cheshire cat Gene laughed saying “you”.

Blushing a deep scarlet Aimee tried not to smile. Almost always she’d find herself too distracted to play. “Look what you made me do” she complained pointing at the screen where her character would be dead or dying.

“I can’t help it if I’m irresistible” Gene grinned moving closer to her.

“Don’t you wish” she retorted giggling like a teenager.

“I know I am” Gene said pulling her close to him so he could tenderly kiss her lips careful not to cause her any pain “at least to you I am” he added coming up for air.

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Shaking her head Aimee wiped a stray tear away. She remembered the day Gene handed her a tablet grinning in eager anticipation. His eyes sparkled as he watched her like a cat about to pounce.

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“What’s this?” she asked running her fingers lightly across the flat smooth screen.

“It’s a tablet” he explained.

“I can see that” irritation making her voice rise “why?”

A look of uncertainty fluttered across Gene’s face than was gone. Taking her hand he lifted it to his lips “I love you.” The simple three word statement meant so much to both of them. They knew how much they had struggled to get to where they were. “I know how much you miss your games.” A wicked gleam came into his eyes “all those virtual men were getting lonely.”

“Gene” she admonished snatching her hand from him “you’re never going to let me live that down are you?”

Chuckling a little Gene shook his head “never”. He reached over turning the tablet on “our nephew Eddie suggested you might like reading virtual novels whatever those are. I had him download a few of them that he thought you might like.”

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She stared at the screen then up into Gene’s deep brown eyes. She could feel all the conflicting emotions floating around her brain paralyzing her tongue “Gene I…” She stopped seeing the dejected slope of his shoulders and downcast eyes.

“You don’t like it” he mumbled staring at the floor “I just thought it’d be something you could do.”

“Gene I” she reached for his hand knocking the tablet from her lap onto the floor “I love it.”

Gene reached down to retrieve the tablet from the floor. Inspecting the device for damage not seeing any he handed it back to her. “You don’t have to say that. It was a stupid idea.”

“Don’t say that” she reached out to stroke his stubbly face “you know how much I’ve missed playing my games. This” she indicated the tablet on her lap “is a gift. I love it. I thought I’d never play again. I” she blinked back tears “now I can have all the virtual men I want.”

“You’re not just saying that” he asked searching her face “you really do like it?”

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Sighing Aimee wiped the tears from her eyes. All the years they had been together Gene had never ceased to amaze her. He supported her gaming like no one ever had or would again. Even when she couldn’t game anymore he had found a way for her to enjoy what she loved. Gene never shared her love of games. She knew he’d rather be out doing something than stuck inside staring at screen.

***

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She picked up the package that was delivered the day before. She sat for several minutes staring at the neat handwritten address. She ran her fingers over the writing wondering when Gene had sent the package. It was so typical of him. He must have given the package to someone to send if something happened to him. It touched her immensely how thoughtful he was of her and his family. She crossed her hands over the top of the box. She could feel the build up of tears behind her eyes again. A never-ending pool of tears resided inside her..

The package lay heavily on her lap. A silent testament to the secret Gene had kept from her. The certain knowledge he knew how short his time had been. Tears cascaded down her cheeks. She covered her face with trembling hands “why Gene why?” she wailed “why keep this from me?”

Silence was her only answer. She’d never know why he had to go before her, leaving her to drown in her own tears. Without her rock she had nothing to cling to. Somehow she had believed they’d go together in their sleep like something out of a movie she saw once. Her heart-felt like it would shatter into a million pieces yet it kept on beating. One painful beat after another.

Taking a deep fortifying breath she carefully tore open the package careful to keep from tearing the neat handwritten address. She didn’t think she could bear tearing his beautiful writing. It was one of the last things he ever did. As he wrote out the addresses he was thinking of her. It was her last link to him. To mar it in any way would break that tenuous link.

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Reaching into the shredded paper lying inside the box she pulled out a game titled “Let’s Make A Memory.” She moved to get up wondering what was on it. Forgetting about the box on her lap she knocked it the floor. Paper scattered over the floor. With a groan Aimee carefully maneuvered to her knees to gather the loose papers together. A gasp escaped when she noticed that one of the pieces contained a handwritten message on it in Gene’s neat handwriting.

If she hadn’t knocked the box over she might have thrown all the papers away. With trembling fingers Aimee opened one folded paper smiling as she read:

“I thought my heart would melt the first time I saw you with my firstborn son in your arms.”

“I love the way your face lights up when you discover a new game.”

“No one has ever believed in me the way that you have.”

“Thank you for coming into my life and turning it upside down.”

***

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“Mom what are you doing on the floor?” Ian’s concerned voice startled her.

“Oh” she cried as her hand clenched around the folded notes crumpling them in her hands.

“Here let me help you” Celia offered kneeling beside her mother-in-law gathering scattered slips of paper.

Ian grabbed a handful turned to toss them into a nearby waste basket.

“No don’t” Aimee pleaded putting a hand out as if she could stop him.

“What?” he asked oblivious of the messages written on them as he emptied the contents in the trash.

Silently Celia handed him a note she had been reading.

“Thank you being my support when I thought all was lost.”

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Shaking Ian dropped to his knees to sift through the garbage to find the papers he had so casually discarded. He couldn’t keep from reading the loving sentiments his father had written to his mom. He felt arms pull him close. He cried like a baby on his mom’s shoulder while she cooed soothing words to him. How was he supposed to go on without him? Gene had been the one they all went to for advise. A shoulder to cry on. A rock to steady them. The backbone of the family. His presence strong and sure was no more.

“He loved you” Aimee said ruffling his hair “don’t ever doubt that.”

He tried to smile up at her. He wanted to believe her. Wanted to believe his absence hadn’t contributed to his father’s death. Hoped that in some small way he had made his father proud of him.

Celia sniffed beside him sounding like she had been crying too. For the first time Ian realized that she was as devastated as he was. Maybe even more. Gene had become the only father figure she had ever known. Gene had given her the same fatherly advice he had given the rest of them. “We’ll put these notes in a scrapbook” she sniffed “I’ll help you. That way you can keep them in one spot without fear of losing any of them.”

“Thank you dear” Aimee smiled warmly over at her “it’ll get better. Your father was a firm believer in that. I think” she looked around at the mass of papers on the coffee table “I think that’s why he sent this to us. To remind us of all the good times. So we can start looking back on his memory without tears but with fondness.”

***

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Later that night when Aimee was alone again in her bedroom she could feel Gene’s presence. Gentle, strong, insistent as if he was urging her to do something. It was as if he was watching her with the same intensity he had when he was alive. The game. It had to be that. She hadn’t had time to play it yet.

Moving towards the lap top she seldom used anymore. She gasped covering her mouth with her hand as Gene’s voice filled the room. “Hey love” he smiled from the screen “I finally made it into the virtual world. I know how much you like your virtual men.”

Only Gene she thought would remember that long ago conversation decades in the past. A conversation that had instigated it all. She had what she thought was a school girls crush on him. It had grown into so much more than she could ever have imagined then.

His voice continued strong and sure the way she remembered it being in life. “Lets play a game” his eyes glinted with mischief “did you ever think you’d hear me say that? You know how much I like games.”

She laughed despite herself. Gene hated games. Once again he had found a way to surprise her.

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“I know what you’re thinking. What’s a guy who hates games doing inside one? Simple. It’s the only way I could think of to be there holding your hand through, what I hope is a difficult time.”

“You hope” she cried indignantly shaking her head at him.

“I wrote down my memories. Yeah you heard that right. I actually wrote them down with pen and paper. Did you think I’d use a computer? Of course not. I’m old school all the way. We’re going to see how well you know me. You’re going to choose what I’d do or did rather.”

She paused the game blinking fast. Gene went and did it to her again. Even in death he was still finding ways to shock her. Her stomach churned in a way it hadn’t done in years. Not since the days of Sim Star Idol when she first saw Gene without his shirt on.

Gene’s voice filled the room as she unpaused the game “are you ready to play Let’s Make A Memory?” In the back ground she could hear Not Today playing softly as she began the game.

Not Today If you want to listen to the song.

Chapter 21 – Not Ready /

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Garrett – Chapter 21 – Not Ready

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“Grandpa” Trober shouted upon entering the house “Grandpa” he repeated smiling as he listened to his voice echoing off the walls. Grandpa’s house was so cool he thought as he proceeded into the sitting area. It was empty. Undaunted Trober walked through the kitchen stopping as he entered the dining room “you’re not Grandpa” he said to the older man smiling over at him.

“I am” Gene teased “at least that’s what your daddy calls me.”

Trober’s eyes sparkled matching the merriment in the older man’s eyes. “Your old” he said trying to sound serious despite the smile that kept spreading across his face.

“That I am” Gene agreed pushing away from the table “what are you doing here?” he asked glancing at the time. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” he couldn’t help but chuckle. Only his five year old grandson would skip kindergarten. He couldn’t help but wonder what the boy would be like in ten years time. A rebel no doubt. A handful he could be proud of.

“Came to see grandpa” Trober said without blinking or remorse.

“He’s not home,” Gene told him “come back after school if you want to see him.”

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“That’s not fair” Trober stomped his foot “I want to see him now.”

“You’ll see him later” Gene said standing up “get your things and I’ll drive you.”

Kicking the table leg Trober mumbled “Grandma Aimee would let me stay until Grandpa gets home.”

Laughing Gene shook his head “you know as well as I do that Grandma Aimee wouldn’t let you stay. In fact she’d make you walk to school and call to make sure you got there.” Walking towards a hook in the kitchen where he kept his keys he continued talking “you’re getting off easy by letting me drive you to school.”

“Oh man” Trober mumbled following Gene from the house.

“Is there a reason why you don’t want to go to school?” Gene asked as they walked towards the garage.

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Trober stopped to consider the question while Gene waited patiently for him to answer. Knowing all the while it was a delaying tactic. “It’s boring” Trober finally came up with waving his hands around “there’s so many other things I’d rather be doing than sitting inside a dusty old room.”

Gene rubbed a hand across his mouth hiding the grin he couldn’t help. The boy was definitely a kindred spirit. “You have to go to school” he said repeating what he had been told hundreds of times by his parents decades ago. Ian had liked school for the most part and Garrett had been a lazy learner but still want to school without fuss. Trober was a different story altogether.

“I learn stuff all the time” Trober insisted a distinct whine in his voice “I don’t see why I have to go to school.”

Opening the garage door Gene said “what would you say if I said you had to go to school because I said so?”

Rolling his eyes Trober shook his head “that’s a stupid reason. I shouldn’t have to do something I don’t want to do just because you said so.”

“Kid I happen to agree with you but the state doesn’t” Gene said getting into the car.

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Reluctantly Trober settled into the backseat fastening his seat belt “it’s not fair” he complained.

“Life isn’t fair sometimes” Gene agreed backing from the garage “until we can convince the state to change their minds about school. You have to go.”

“I’m going to start a protest” Trober declared from the backseat.

“Not today” Gene said looking at him in the rear view mirror “you don’t have any protest signs.”

Nodding thoughtfully Trober was silent the rest of the way to school. Getting out he turned to Gene with a grin “I’ll go on protest tomorrow. Today I’ll get followers to protest unfair school rules today.”

“Good luck with that” Gene waved him on hoping the boy never lost his spunk.

***

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“That was the school,” Garrett said putting his phone away.

“Not again” Verity sighed “he’s too young.”

“To hate school?” Garrett laughed “afraid not. The teacher says he’s making protest signs to stop unfair school rules.”

“What?” she asked laughing.

“Yeah our son thinks it’s unfair to force kids to go to school,” Garrett chuckled sitting beside Verity on the couch “it’s going to be a long twelve years if he continues to hate school this much.”

“I’d like to know whose giving him these ideas,” she demanded turning up the volume on the TV.

Garrett watched the group of women protesters before glancing over at Verity “I hate say this but I think we’re to blame.”

“What do you mean?” she asked turning her attention to him.

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Waving a hand towards the TV “we may be watching too much of this and not enough cartoons.”

“Oh” she said blankly as she watched the group on the screen waving around their signs “that explains the protest signs. Not his dislike for school though.”

“He’s a typical kid,” Garrett shrugged “I didn’t much like school either.”

“We need to do something” Verity insisted “I don’t want to fight with him everyday for the next twelve years to go to school.”

“I’ll talk to him” Garrett promised “Not to change the subject but what have you decided regarding that job you offered at the police station.”

“Totally changing the subject” he said snuggling into him.

“Alright I am but I really want to know,” he draped an arm around her dropping a kiss on her nose.

Glancing towards Ava playing on the floor Verity sighed “I don’t know. It’s a great opportunity but I” she sighed again “I don’t know.”

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“I think you should take it” Garrett encouraged “you love investigating, solving problems. Helping people. You’re good at it.”

She moved restlessly in his arms “I do. I mean I did” she stopped confused “what about you and the kids?”

“What about us?” she asked “you’re not afraid to leave them at home with me are you?” he half joked. “If you’re afraid what we’ll eat I’ll take us all over to mom’s.”

“It’s not that” she laughed “but I’m glad you wouldn’t subject them to your idea of cooking.” She leaned into him taking comfort in the feel of his strong arms around her. She wished she could stay like this forever.

“Then what is it?” Garrett asked giving the impression of endless patience when inside he was dying of curiosity.

Sighing she craned her neck to look up at him a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. “I’m afraid. Afraid that I’ll become obsessed again.”

“Shh” he said softly “that won’t happen.” Garrett cupped her face between his palms “I trust you to see the line now. You’ve learned from your mistakes and so have I.”

A tear dropped rolling down the side of her nose. “How can you be so sure? What if I can’t let go? What if I neglect my family?”

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He slid his fingers across her face drying the tears. “I trust you. You won’t let that happen again. Not now. Not this time. We’re both older, wiser more settled this time. It’s been over three years since you became a stay at home mom.” He kissed her forehead where her hairline began “I know it’s what you wanted and needed to do but can you honestly say that’s your dream come true?”

Closing her eyes she listened to his even breathing. Felt the gentle touch of his warm breath on the nape of her neck as he nuzzled her. Her skin prickled with anticipation of his touch. She calmed her heart taking in all the sensations. The mosaic of her life. She loved moments like this. The moments she could see the answers so clearly. Every one of the answers were interwoven with this man and the family they created together. This was the family she always wanted. The closeness she longed for but never had with her parents. Their lives focused around their jobs, the mystery solving, the case. She was left on the outside looking in. Lonely. “I do love the mystery. Solving the case. It’s not all I want though.”

“That’s good,” Garrett enthused “that means you won’t forget about us.”

She smiled at that “I was pretty bad before wasn’t I?”

“You were” Garrett agreed his voice gentle “your heart was in the right place.”

“You still maintain that I won’t go over board again become obsessed” she inquired.

“I’m positive this time things will be different” Garrett affirmed “solving mysteries is part of who you are. I never meant for you to give that up. I appreciate that you did for me and the kids. It’s what we needed at the time. I think if you wanted to go back to work we can manage.”

“Wife, mother and crime solving sleuth,” she smiled up at him content with the world “I like the sound of that.”

***

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Putting his phone away Ian sighed giving his grandson a stern look. Glancing up Trober lost his grin “that was daddy wasn’t it?”

“Yes” Ian confirmed “they were looking for you. It seems you didn’t have permission to come here after school.”

“Yes I did” Trober said standing up straight meeting Ian’s eyes “Grandpa Gene said I could.”

“No I….”

“Yes you did” Trober insisted “this morning when you drove me to school. You said I could come back to see Grandpa after school.”

“You drove” Aimee said turning to Gene “you know what the doctor said.”

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“He didn’t say I couldn’t drive” Gene protested “he said to avoid high stress situations.”

“Driving isn’t a stress free activity” Aimee said throwing her hands up in exasperation.

“It wasn’t that far” Gene protested voice rising “I’mm not an invalid.”

“No one’s saying you are” Ian interjected before the situation could deteriorate further. He gave his mom an irritable look. She knew better than to antagonize Gene, “the issue at hand is Trober.”

The young boy looked up in surprise at the sound of his name being said “I have no issue” he said giving them all a sweet smile.

Shaking his head Ian counted to ten before proceeding. “What have I told you about coming over here?” Ian asked his voice firm commanding attention.

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Trober remained silent staring up at his grandfather “I’m to get permission before coming here after school.” He sighed crossing his arms “I did get permission. Grandpa Gene said I could.”

Ian gave his dad a frosty look stalling any intervention Gene might have made on the boys behalf. “Why were you here this morning?” Ian asked.

“To see you” Trober replied as if it should have been obvious.

“Did you have permission to come here this morning?” Ian asked.

“You didn’t say anything about needing permission to come in the morning” Trober protested “just after school. Besides Grandma Aimee never said anything all the other times I came. Why is this time different?”

“Don’t look at me like that” Aimee protested sensing Ian’s displeasure directed at her “I always made sure he got to school.”

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Nodding Ian knelt in front of the boy “any time you go anywhere without your parents you need their permission. Do you understand?”

Trober’s eye darted around the room desperately looking for an allay. “What if my parents aren’t around to ask? Then what?”

Ian wasn’t fooled by the boys tactics. He knew the boy was looking for a loop hole. “If your not with your parents then you can ask another adult who is watching you. The important thing is your family needs to know where you are.”

“Alright” Trober acknowledged looking at the floor a sullen look on his face at his sudden loss of freedom. His parents would never agree to him coming here before school. They barely let him come here after school.

“Your parents are on their way here to get you” Ian told the boy “get your things together.”

***

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“Mom. Dad” Garrett enthused giving each a hug before turning to his grandparents. “Grandma” Garrett chided “encouraging my son in his rebellion.”

“I always made sure he went to school” Aimee asserted “doesn’t that count for something?”

“Of course it does” Garrett kissed her cheek careful not to hurt her fragile frame “Grandpa on the other hand” Garrett laughed at the mixture of guilt and mirth on the older man’s face “your a bad influence on my boy” Garrett intoned giving Gene a hearty hug.

“That’s what Grandpas are for” Gene chuckled.

“Hmm” Garrett laughed “I don’t remember you being so easy on me when I was Trober’s age.” Shaking his head at the older man Garrett turned to his son “are you ready to go?”

Nodding Trober sighed. He liked being at his grandparents house. If he could live here he would. It was safe. He didn’t have to worry about the boogeyman coming in and taking him away. He dragged his backpack over to where his dad was standing “do I have to go home? Can’t I stay here?”

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“Son if you wanted to spend the night you should have asked first” Garrett knelt down to be on the same level with his son “we were worried about you.”

“I know” Trober sighed blinking back tears “I just wanted to be here…”

Giving the boy a slight smile Garrett held his arms out drawing the boy in for a hug. Squeezing the sturdy solid frame of his son Garrett said “I’m glad you like coming here but you need to ask first. Your mother and I need to know where you are. When you didn’t come home we were scared.”

Trober gave him a quizzical look. It never occurred to him that parents could get scared. Were they afraid of the boogeyman too? “Is it because the boogeyman took me away once?” he asked his voice low confidential.

Squeezing his son tight Garrett nodded “yes that’s why. We never want that to happen again.” Garrett had often wondered how much if anything Trober remembered of his time with Kara. He had been reluctant to ask too much afraid it would cause more harm than good. Maybe he had been wrong about that. “Are you scared the boogeyman will come?” he asked keeping his voice down so as not to be over heard.

“Sometimes” he mumbled “it’s safe here.”

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There was the clincher. The magnetic draw as to why Trober always found his way here instead to his own home. Ian had rescued him. That bond. The assurance that he was safe in Grandpa’s home. “Would it make you feel better to come here after school for a little while?” Garrett asked. He didn’t want to award bad behavior but it didn’t seem so bad after knowing the reason why he came.

“Yes” he replied. The simple unembellished answer more than emphasized the depth of his need.

“I’ll see what I can do about that” Garrett assured him “in the mean time you have to ask before you come, ok?”

“I promise” Trober said “I’m sorry for scaring you and mommy.”

“I know bud” Garrett said lifting the boy in his arms.

***

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“Gene” Aimee called from the bedroom. “Gene are you alright?” she asked throwing the blanket back. She shuffled across the floor towards their bathroom suite. He had been too long in the bathroom. His silence was becoming alarming. Opening the door she found him on the floor clutching his left arm panting. “Gene” she cried falling to her knees beside him.

His eye lids fluttered in response to her voice. A slight feeble smile flitted across his ashen face “get Ian” he gasped.

Leaning forward she place a kiss on his clammy forehead. She felt a slight pressure on her hand as he attempted to reassure her. She forced her arthritic joints to move faster then they had in years as she ran to get her son. Not once did it cross her mind to simply call his cell. “Ian” she called once she was in the hall “Ian” she called a second time.

Running up the stairs in response to her cry. Ian almost knocked her over in his haste to get to her. “Your father” she gasped “collapsed in the bathroom.”

Stunned he stared at her into panic, grief stricken face before leaving her side to find his dad. Stumbling into the bathroom he fell to his knees beside Gene. “Dad” he bit back the strangled sob that threatened to escape. He fumbled for his phone “I need an ambulance. My father’s having a heart attack.” He recited the address feeling as if he was trapped in a nightmare. He wasn’t ready. It was too soon.

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His phone slid from his hand as he reached out to take his dad’s hand. “I’m here dad”he said trying to comfort the older man “help’s on the way.”

Gene’s dark brown eyes opened as he struggled to talk “take…care…of…your…mother…”

“Dad you’re going to be alright” Ian cried clinging to his hand “hang on just a little longer.”

“Promise…me” Gene pleaded.

Ian looked up as the bathroom door opened. Tears in his eyes as he found Celia holding onto Aimee who was weeping helplessly in her daughter-in-laws arms. “Dad you’ve got to hang on” Ian pleaded “it’s your time. Not yet. Not like this.”

“Please” Aimee pleaded “Please I can’t go on without you.”

“Celia honey take her out of here” Ian urged “please.”

Nodding Celia guided the distraught woman from the room. The sounds of her sobbing faded as the door closed behind them. “Dad you hear that” Gene nodded “you’ve got to hang on. She’s not ready to let you go. I’m not ready to let you go. We’re not ready. I know it’s hard but you’ve got to fight. Please dad don’t go. We need you.”

Chapter 20 – Welcome Home / Chapter 22 – Let’s Make A Memory

Garrett – Chapter 20 – Welcome Home!

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They rushed through the emergency room doors coming to a stand still upon hearing the joyous sounds of their son’s voice calling “Mommy. Daddy.”

“Trober” Verity cried running to throw her arms around him. Tears ran down her cheeks unheeded.

After making sure his son was alright Garrett approached his Dad and Uncle “did you get her?” he demanded. As soon as his Dad turned he could see it in his eyes that they didn’t find her. “She got away again didn’t she?” He could feel his body begin to shake as he took several steps away.

“Son,” Ian said in his calm reassuring voice “the important thing is we found Trober.” Cautiously he approached his son pulling him close.

“She’s still out there,” he cried “she can come back. Take him again.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Ian pushed him far enough away from him to gaze into his eyes “she doesn’t want a baby she has to take care of. She didn’t realize the work involved in caring for one. She’s too self-centered to give that much of herself to a child.”

Ian could see the struggle in his son’s eyes. He could see he wanted to believe him “Dad are you sure?” was all he asked.

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“As sure as I can be when it comes to her,” he said “we still need to be take precautions but according to the criminal behavioral analyst they say her obsession with us has been broken.”

“Why?” Garrett asked confused “how? I don’t understand.”

Shaking his head Ian said “to be honest I don’t understand it myself. Let’s talk to the experts.”

Approaching the men Ian interrupted their ongoing conversation. “Excuse me. Could you please explain to my son why you think Kara has lost interest in our family.”

Garrett could sense the poorly concealed irritation the so-called experts seemed to have toward them. He realized a moment later that part of that irritation stemmed from all the questions Ian had been asking them. They seemed to not take kindly to anyone questioning their expertise to read people. “So you think because she destroyed all the pictures she had of us that means she’s lost interest. How do you know she didn’t do that because she was angry and want’s to kill us?”

“In the past she didn’t go through the effort to change her appearance. She left behind an at home hair color kit that indicates she changed her hair color. She cut several inches off as well. She doesn’t want to be known as Kara Bennett anymore.”

“Then who is she?” Garrett demanded.

“We don’t know” the man said “I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We always do.”

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Garrett walked away from the so called expert. He gazed across the hall towards Verity who was hugging and kissing their son to the obvious delight of the little boy. He went to stand by a window and gazed outside at the darkening sky.

“What are you thinking about son?” Ian asked coming up beside him.

“I think those experts are a bunch of idiots” he mumbled. He heard Ian’s muffled grunt as he tried not to laugh “I think we’re going to move to Sunlit Tides. I can get transferred to the coast guard there. Verity is going to take time off from being a private investigator. It’s where a lot of the family is. It’ll be good for Trober to be around his cousins.”

“Sounds like you’ve been thinking about this for a while” Ian observed “do you mind if your mother and I follow you?”

“I think Grandma and Grandpa would be disappointed if you didn’t,” Garrett smiled at him “have I told you how thankful I am that you found my son?”

“No but there’s no need” Ian brushed his thanks aside “I’m sorry you had to go through this alone.”

“You’re here now,” Garrett hugged his father close “that’s all that matters now.”

***

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Verity stood staring up at the house. Turning when Garrett came along side her slipping his arms around her “penny for your thoughts,” he murmured nuzzling her cheek.

She turned her face away blinking fast. “Hey” Garrett spoke gently “none of that.”

“I can’t help it,” she sniffed leaning into him “I made so many mistakes. I almost lost everything I loved most. I…”Her voice was cut off abruptly when Garrett’s mouth clamped down on hers “what was that for?” she asked when they both pulled apart to breathe.

Shrugging he half turned away with a slight smile on his lips. “To stop you” he laughed when she glared up at him “it wasn’t all your fault.”

She gave him a let’s get real look before mumbling “most of it.”

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Tilting her chin up forcing her to look up at him “let’s not get into an argument about whose more to blame. Let’s just be thankful that we’re both here to try again. I love you. That hasn’t changed.”

Nodding she smiled up at him eyes full of hope “do you think Sunlit Tides will be better for us?”

Pulling her close he chuckled a little “well it can’t be much worse.”

She shivered as the cool Aurora Skies breeze blew across the yard rustling the leaves in the trees. “It’ll certainly be warmer” she said turning away from the house.

“Yeah it has that going for it,” Garrett agreed stopping at the for sale sign long enough to change it to read sold. “Here’s to the future,” he said walking to join Verity at the waiting taxi. Getting in he directed the driver to take them to the airport.

***

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Ian and Celia arrived in Sunlit Tides ahead of their son who had stayed behind to sell the house in Aurora Skies. They had volunteered to take Trober with them since Trober seldom was able to let Ian out of his sight for long.

Taking Ian’s hand Celia asked “are you nervous?”

“Petrified” Ian said eyes darting around the busy airport. “It’s been so long,” his voice caught in his throat.

“Gampa” Trober tugged on his hand fear in clear blue eyes.

“It’s alright bud” Ian smiled reassuringly at him “Grandpa’s alright.”

Frowning the little boy slowly nodded “otay” he murmured.

“I agree with him” Celia whispered beside him “I know you’re worried about seeing your parents for the first time in so long.”

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“I am” he gripped her hand “I never meant to hurt them yet I know I did. How could I not? They thought I was dead. That must have destroyed them.”

Celia at a loss for words gently kissed his cheek. “I’m sorry” she murmured knowing it had been her decision to go into protective custody. She had talked Ian into staying despite his concern for his family and parents. He had stayed for her.

Looking intently at her Ian held her gaze “don’t for a minute go to blaming yourself. You did what you thought was right. I stayed because I hoped it would help. It didn’t.” He sighed looking around the baggage claims area “now we live with the consequences of that decision.”

“Daddy” a woman’s voice shouted above the noise of the airport.

Ian and Celia both looked up to find a young woman hurrying towards them with red-gold hair and glasses. Rushing to meet her they fell into her arms “Katrina it’s so good to see you.”

Once the hugging and kissing was done Ian scanned the area “where’s dad? Mom?”

Worry flickered in Katrina’s dark brown eyes as she attempted to smile “they’re at home waiting for you.” She stated walking towards the exist confident they would follow her “they wanted to give you a real welcome back party.”

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Ian grabbed his daughter’s hand “Katrina tell me what’s wrong. I know my parents. They’d have been here come hell or high water if they could.”

Slowing Katrina came to a stop “they don’t want you to know…” she bit her bottom lip “Grandpa’s heart…”

Alarm shot through Ian sending chills throughout his body. Jeff had told him about the heart attack his dad had suffered. His parents were getting old. How much longer would they be around?

“Daddy I’m sorry” Katrina cried “he’s been having chest pains since Kara kidnapped Trober. We practically had to tie him down to keep him from hopping on a plane to Aurora Skies.”

“I suppose he’s refusing to see a doctor,” Ian guessed.

Nodding Katrina added “he wants to see you first and not from a hospital bed.” Reach for him she continued “I’m hoping you can convince him to see a doctor. You know how stubborn he be.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Ian muttered wishing he could go back in time and change that one decision. He had lost so much valuable time he could have spent with his family. Time he’ll never be able to get back.

***

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“Ian” Aimee cried tears spilling from her eyes and down her face.

“Mom” Ian’s voice was gruff as he tried to keep from crying too “I’ve missed you so much.” Once his arms wrapped around her frail form Ian couldn’t hold the dam from breaking. They stood crying on each other’s shoulders.

“The prodigal son returns,” Gene’s firm deep voice pulled them apart.

Sniffing Ian practically fell into his father’s arms. He was relieved to see there weren’t anything different about his father’s appearance that shouted weak, frail or old. “Dad I’m so so sorry” Ian cried on his father’s shoulder overcome with emotion.

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“We’ll have none of that” Gene said eyes twinkling “you’re here now. That’s all that matters.”

“Grandpa” a little girls voice spoke from behind them.

“Is this?” Ian asked blinking back tears “Sara? You’ve gotten so big.” He pulled the little girl into his arms. “How old are you darlin?”

“Six” she gave him a toothy grin “I’m in the first grade and I’m the smartest in my class.” She looked over at her mom for confirmation “aren’t I mom?”

“Yes you are sweetheart,” Katrina beamed with pride holding another child about two years old in her arms “you haven’t met your other grandchild. This is Stevie.”

***

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A week later Ian was strolling along the beach beside his father. “It’s so peaceful here,” he said stopping to look out to sea. A sudden gasp of breath and grunt of pain had Ian turning towards his Dad.

Gene clutched his chest gasping for breath “it’ll pass” he waved away Ian’s helpful hand “give it a minute.”

Reaching out Ian put an arm around his father “you need to see a doctor” alarm making his voice higher pitched than normal.

Shrugging off his son’s helping hands “I’m not an invalid. I don’t need a doctor.”

“Dad you’re in pain” Ian stood there feeling helpless unsure what he should do.

“It’ll pass,” Gene insisted his voice taking on its usual stubborn tone “it always does.”

“That’s it,” Ian said taking hold of his Dad’s arm he started walking towards the parking lot. “I’m not taking no for answer. You’re going to see a doctor. No excuses.”

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“I’m not going,” Gene insisted even though he gave little to no resistance to Ian as he pulled him along. Sitting in the passenger seat sweating profusely “your mother has enough to worry about than my health. She doesn’t need to add this to her list.”

Hitting the steering wheel Ian glared at his father “you’re on top of that list whether you want to be or not. She worries about you all the time. She knows you’re in pain every time you clutch your chest. She worries every time you turn that sickly shade of grey like you are now.”

“I’m fine,” Gene insisted refusing to meet his son’s eyes.

“Admitting you’re in pain isn’t a sign of weakness dad” Ian sighed letting his frustration go “saying you’re not in pain doesn’t make the pain go away.” He looked over at his Dad glaring out the window. “Saying you’re alright doesn’t make us worry any less. Dad please. We love you. We want you around for several more years to come.”

Blowing through his nose Gene turned to meet his son’s worried glare “alright I’ll go. If only to make your mother feel better.”

“It’ll make her feel much better,” Ian assured him.

***

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“How do you like your new house?” Garrett asked approaching Verity as she gazed through the open window towards the ocean.

Turning her eyes shining “it’s perfect.”

“Do you think you can be happy here?” he asked concerned since Uncle Jeff didn’t have any business on the islands. “Are you sure you won’t miss working?”

“Who says I won’t be working?” she smiled up at him “very soon I’m going to have my hands full of work.”

Garrett gave her a concerned almost fearful look “did you decide to start your own private investigative service?”

Shaking her head eyes beaming as a wide grin spread across her face. “No I’m going to keep my promise. I’m not going to worry about mysteries any more.” She put a hand up to stall whatever Garret was about to say “I love solving problems. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been a huge part of my life since I can remember. I’m not going to lie. I’m afraid if I continue the obsession of needing to find the answers will control me forever.” She giggled as Garrett pulled her close peppering her face with light sweet kisses “I love my family more than any old mystery.”

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Kissing her tantalizing lips he asked “then what’s going to keep you so busy?”

“I’m going to have a baby,” she laughed as Garrett picked her up swinging her through the air “I guess I don’t need to ask if your happy about it.”

“I’m ecstatic” he beamed at her “how far along are you?”

“Not far” she said “I missed my last cycle. I took a test. It was positive.” She squeezed him tight “I still need to go to the doctor to confirm it. Do you think Katrina could recommend someone?”

“I’m sure she could,” he smiled “once you ask her everyone will know. My family is too large to keep secrets for long.”

“I wasn’t planning on keeping it a secret” Verity told him “I want everyone to know.”

***

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“Mom how is he?” Ian asked sitting next to her on the couch.

Patting his hand Aimee smiled “stubborn as always.” A stray tear slipped from the corner of her eye “thank you for convincing him to see the doctor. Of course he says the doctor is wrong.”

The corners of Ian’s mouth quirked up “of course he does. You know dad has never been fond of doctors.”

“Oh I know” Aimee chuckled “this has been an ongoing battle for years. Can’t say I blame him. I’m not over fond of them myself.”

“But he is going?” Ian asked “he hasn’t talked his way out of his appointment has he?”

“Don’t worry he’ll be there,” Aimee leaned over to kiss his cheek “even if I have to hog tie him to get him there.”

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A genuine smile spread across Ian’s face as he imagined his mom, as frail as she was wrestling his father down to tie him up. He had no doubts she would do it too if it meant saving his life. “Let me know if you need any help,” he said standing up smiling towards Celia as she walked into the room.

Walking up to her mother-in-law Celia held her hands out “I wanted to tell you how much Ian and I appreciate your hospitality in letting us stay here with you while we look for a house.”

“It’s been our pleasure” Aimee told her struggling to her feet to give Celia a hug ” I’ve enjoyed having you here.”

“Thank you” Celia said again looking towards Ian “we think we found a house we both like. We’re going to look at it tomorrow. I’m sure you’re looking forward to having your house all to yourselves again.”

“Oh” a look of disappointment flashed across Aimee’s face “I was hoping…” Shaking her head Aimee took a few uncertain steps towards the stairs “I’ve enjoyed having you so close.”

***

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Ian and Celia exchanged glances watching her go up the stairs to join her husband. “Good night mom” Ian called after her. There was no response from his mom.

“Maybe she didn’t hear you,” Celia said sitting in his lap.

“Celia I think she wants us to stay” Ian looked back at the stairs half expecting his parents to materialize.

“I got that impression too” Celia agreed “what do you think we should do?”

He looked into her familiar blue eyes “I have no right to ask this of you. We’ve had so few chances to be on own.”

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Stroking his beloved face Celia sighed content to be in his arms. “It doesn’t matter where we live or who shares the same house with us. As long as I’m with you that’s where I’ll call home.” Leaning in close she tenderly ran her lips across his “it took me to many years to realize that. I regret the times I doubted your love for me and mine for you.”

Ian opened his mouth to protest only to be muffled by her kissing him. “You’re a dear sweet man to always try to protect me from my own actions. Please don’t do it anymore. Let me take responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made.”

“Celia let’s not worry about what’s in the past. We both made mistakes. I won’t let you take the blame for what has happened with Kara. Kara is responsible for herself. She made the decision to terrorize her family. Why? Who knows. At this point I don’t care. At this point she doesn’t deserve our time or pity.” He leaned in kissed Celia running his fingers through her soft hair. “I’m done wasting my time and energy on her. I want to spend what time I have left with you, my parents, our kids and grand kids.”

Smiling at him she asked “does that mean we’re coming up with an excuse as to why we’re not moving?”

“Definitely” he grinned “mom and dad will love to have us stay with them. We’ll move when they get tired of having us here.” They both knew it was far more likely his parents would pass away before that happened. Neither wanted to think that far ahead.

 Chapter 19 – The Lost Is Found / Chapter 21 – Not Ready

Garrett – Chapter 15 – Past and Future Collide

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Dropping the box by his feet Garrett stretched his tired muscles. It had taken two years to make the move from Starlight Shores to Aurora Skies. If it had been up to him he would have left as soon as the funeral was over. Looking down he found the top of one of the boxes had come open. He reached inside pulling out the framed picture that caught his eye. Tears pricked his eyes as he examined the smiling couple in the photo.

Coming up behind him Verity wrapped her arms around him. “They’d be so proud of you” she said leaning her head on his back.

“I miss them so much,” he sniffed trying to keep the tears at bay. Taking a deep breath he asked “where did you get this?” He had thought everything they had, all the mementos, pictures had been destroyed in the bomb.

“Your grandparent let me copy a few of their pictures,” she explained “I thought it would be a nice surprise.” Kissing the back of his neck she released him “if it hurts too much to have them displayed in the house we can put them in an album or something.”

“No I want them,” his voice a half strangled sob “thank you for this. I thought everything had been destroyed.”

Putting her hand over his heart “not everything. You’re still here.”

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He gave her a crooked grin “thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Eat a whole lot worse,” she giggled as she pulled away from him to start unpacking boxes.

“I’ll have you know I make a mean mac and cheese,” he retorted bending to open a box.

“If you like it charred on the bottom,” she said ducking the pillow he threw at her.

“That only happened once,” he ducked as she tossed the pillow back at him “as I recall you distracted me.”

Crawling over to him she pushed him to the floor “how did I distract you? Aren’t you supposed to have superb focus to rescue people?”

“So far none of the people I’ve had to rescue from near death have had your luscious lips,” he pulled her down on top of him rolling her over on the floor.

Gazing into his eyes she ran her tongue along her bottom lip, “does that mean you’d be distracted if they had my lips?”

“Never,” he brushed his lips across hers “no one would ever compare to you.”

She ran her hand up his back, into his hair pulling his head down to capture his mouth with hers. Breathing hard she pulled away gasping “that better be the way it is for always.”

Running his hand down her side to her bare midriff “you’re mine now and for always.”

“Good,” she smiled at him as her hands worked on his belt “I can handle that.”

***

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Sometime later they lay in each other’s arms among half-open boxes. Garrett mumbled “will you marry me?”

Her hands stilled their lazy meandering along his dark toned chest. The word she wanted to shout out loud stuck in her throat. She brought her lips to his soft skin kissing a trail across his chest. She heard him moan deep inside as his arms tightened around her.

“Are you trying to distract me?” he asked sitting up “I thought that’s what we both wanted.”

“It is. I do. It’s just,” she ran her hands through her hair.

“What is it?” he asked “we’ve lived together for the past two years. It can’t be my age. I may be younger than you but I am still an adult.”

Pulling her knees to her chest she shook her head “it’s not that.”

“Then what is it?” he demanded reaching out for her.

She shrunk from his touch knowing she was about to hurt him worse than she already had. “I…” she opened her mouth but couldn’t say what she knew would shatter them both.

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Dropping his hands to his side he slowly nodded. Without saying a word he pulled his pants on, slipping his feet into shoes. Moving towards the door he said “you need to let it go.”

She jumped when the door slammed shut as Garrett left the house. She knew he was right. She had to let it go. She couldn’t continue to blame herself for Ian’s death. She messed up she knew that. Did she need to continue to punish herself for it? How many times had Garrett told her he didn’t blame her? Leaning her head in her hands he had told her so many times that she had lost count.

She loved him. Didn’t want to live without him. Then why couldn’t she say yes when he asked her to marry him? What was holding her back? What was she waiting for? Kara was gone. At least for now. As much as she wanted to believe Kara wasn’t lurking somewhere on the periphery of their lives she couldn’t let it go. She wanted to hunt her down. Make her pay for what she’s done.

That in a nut shell was why she couldn’t let it go. Her sense of justice needed her to search for answers. She couldn’t let Kara think she had gotten away with her crimes. Her eyes strayed to the unopened box she had stored her research. Now while Garrett was out she could store its contents inside her file cabinets. Not that she was concerned Garrett would snoop inside her things, he knew she took her job as a detective seriously. She didn’t want to risk him finding out she was still searching for her. Somewhere she knew Kara had left a clue and she was going to find it. When she did Kara wouldn’t get away again.

***

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Several weeks passed and neither one mentioned the aborted proposal. Garrett would get up early, go to work and barring emergencies he would come home early after lunch. He would walk into the small house he shared with Verity, change clothes and go for a run. One day as he passed by the bathroom door he stopped in concern. Standing outside the door he thought he heard something “Verity are you alright?” He waited for a response. When nothing happened he opened the door to find her draped across the toilet. Kneeling beside her he repeated “are you alright?”

Glancing up she moaned, her eyes glazed over in misery. Her mouth moved to reply only to be aborted by the need to throw up. When she was done she let him pull her into his arms “I feel awful,” she mumbled into his shoulder.

Stroking her silky red hair “you’ve been sick a lot lately,” he recalled times when she had gotten up in the middle of the night or left the table in the middle of eating. “I’m sorry” as air escaped his lungs leaving him feeling somewhat hollow. He should have known she wasn’t well.

“It’s not your fault” she assured him “well not completely.” She tried to smile up at him ignoring her upset stomach and spinning head.

“What do you mean by that?” he asked looking deep into her eyes.

“Well” she bit her lip “I went to see the doctor.” She looked into his concerned eyes “I’m pregnant.”

“What? Really?” he gasped putting a hand over her stomach “how? I mean we’ve been careful and we haven’t had…” His voice faded away remembering their first day here among the boxes…

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She watched him carefully as his smile faded and his eyes became clouded “we weren’t as careful as we should have been that time.”

“How long have you known?” he asked his voice hoarse.

Scooting out of his arms saying “about a week.” Tracing the grout lines on the floor she added “you don’t have to marry me just because of the baby.”

“Damn it Verity,” he slammed his fist into the floor “I’ve been asking you to marry me for months. Now you imply I’d only marry you because of the baby?” He got to his feet and stalked from the room.

“Garrett please,” she entreated following him into the living room “I’m sorry I…”

He stood staring at her work area tugging on a locked file cabinet. “It’s because of her isn’t?” he asked as she came up alongside him. Yanking on the drawer as her silence confirmed his suspicions.

Reaching out she put a restraining hand over his “I’m sorry.” She bit her lip as he turned towards her “it’s my fault they’re dead. How can I marry you when I feel so guilty?”

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“How many times do I have to tell you it was a mistake?” he asked reaching his hand out to caress her face “my parents deaths were not your fault.”

“I know you say that,” she looked away gulping for air “but how can you look at me and not see the person responsible?”

Gently he ran his thumbs across her cheeks wiping her tears away “the person responsible isn’t in this room. Kara is the only person I blame for what happened. It wasn’t your fault. You made a mistake. I’m going to keep telling you that until you believe me.”

“I wish it were that easy” she mumbled her eyes searching his “I want to believe you. My heart keeps condemning me. I keep replaying that night over and over in my head. I see all the things I should have done.”

“Let it go,” he pleaded kissing her forehead “dad wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself. He’d be the first one to say people make mistakes. He loved mom despite all the mistakes she made. Don’t you think she blamed herself for how Kara turned out? Dad wouldn’t let her get lost in the blame game and neither will I. I love you mistakes and all. None of us are perfect…”

“You’re pretty close to perfect,” she ran her fingers through his hair “you keep putting up with me and my mistakes.”

“What mistakes?” he asked with a smirk trying to lighten the mood.

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“Besides what we’ve been discussing?” She pursed her lips “one I can think of is me telling you no” her eyes shimmered with moisture “Garrett Jefferson Bennett will you do me the honor of being my husband?”

“I’m supposed to ask you that” he protested as a grin took over his face.

“What?” she asked knitting her brows together “don’t tell me you wanted me to be your husband!”

“No silly. My wife” he leaned forward pressing his lips to hers “I want you to be my wife,” he murmured against them.

“Mrs Bennett,” she mumbled embracing him “I like the sound of that.”

“Name the date, any date and I’ll tell the family,” he told her growing excitement enlivening his voice.

“Today” she joked “it has to be fairly soon. I don’t want to be as big as a house when we say I do.”

***

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Four weeks later Gene and Aimee stood on an empty lot overlooking the ocean. Slipping her hand in his Aimee spoke softly “we don’t have to do this.”

“I know,” his voice was hoarse and shaky as his mind transported him back in time. He squeezed her hand “it’s been almost sixty years since the fire and I’ve never been back.” He pointed towards an empty pool that marked where the house once stood. “The house was there. I used to love to torment my brothers; especially Casey, he’d get so mad.” A sad pensive smile spread across his face.

Aimee shivered in the cool breeze coming in off the ocean. It was an eerie desolate place, almost as if the land still mourned the family who once lived here. “It wasn’t your fault,” she murmured turning to him stroking his weathered face “the fire wasn’t your fault.”

Looking out across the empty expanse when he spoke it was like he hadn’t heard a word she said “I wonder why no one ever built on this lot?”

“Would it make a difference if they had?” she asked trying to divert his attention to her face. Her pink eyes reflecting his melancholia as the depressive mournful tone of the place swept through her.

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“I don’t know” he mumbled “maybe it would have helped to close this chapter in my life.” He shivered as he wrapped his arms around her “I’ve tried so hard to become a better person…”

Hugging him tight despite the pain jolting through her joints “you’re the best most wonderful man I know. You’ve saved me in more than one way. We all make mistakes. Don’t look back and compare who you are with what you were. It wouldn’t be fair to the thirteen year old boy you were or the man you are now.”

Snorting he moved so that he could kiss her lips “I love you.” He had said those three little words a million times before. Each time he said them it felt like the first time.

“I love you too” she kissed him back “come on” tugging on his hand “we need to get back. You have a bride to give away.”

Smiling Gene let his gaze sweep across the yard long ago memories crashing over him. The wind seemed to carry their voices to him, calling to him. Sydney, Robert, his parents were all gone. He could feel the sands of time running out as they beckoned him to join them. Shaking his head he turned to follow Aimee to the car. The only voice he hadn’t heard was Ian’s and that hurt more than the rest.

***

Garrett stood beside August gazing down the aisle while his sister tried to smile reassuringly from the other side of the wedding arch. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He had dreamed about this day for two years. Now it was a reality. It could only be better if his parents were there to share his happiness with him. He doubted he’d ever stop missing them. Wherever they were he knew they’d be happy for him.

He felt August grip his shoulder as the music changed and Verity came into view. He smiled as he watched her walk arm in arm with his grandfather. His eyes misted over as he realized the depth of his love for this beautiful woman walking towards him.

Gene leaned in close kissing her cheek “are you reading for this?”

Nodding she gave him a tearful smile “it’s been years since I lost my parents.” She blinked back tears “I miss them today more than ever.”

Wrapping her arm around his he patted her hand “it’s only to be expected. It’s every girls dream to be walked down the aisle by her father.” He looked down the aisle where his grandson was waiting for them “you have someone very special waiting for you.”

“I know,” she said leaning up to kiss his cheek “I have someone just as special standing beside me. You and Aimee are always welcome.”

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“Thank you” Gene straightened to his full height “if you or Garrett ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask. Aimee and I will always come and help.”

“Good,” she said reaching over to fix the flower in his lapel “you’ll need to be here when the baby is born.”

“You’re pregnant?” he asked his dark eyes coming to life with a mischievous gleam.

Nodding she squeezed his arm “you’re the first person I’ve told other than Garrett.”

“We’ll be here” he told her clearing his throat “now let’s get you married.” He walked her down the aisle a genuine smile upon his face. He looked towards Aimee and winked as he made his way to her side. She leaned her head on his shoulder as he sat beside her whispering “I love you.”

Garrett missed the scene between his grandparents having eyes only for Verity as he took her hand and turned toward the minister. He couldn’t believe this beautiful woman was about to become his wife, future mother of his children. His lips repeated the vows the minister recited. His fingers trembled as he held the ring slipping it around her finger.

Verity smiled up into Garrett’s clear blue eyes. She mouthed three little words “I love you” as he finished saying his vows. They both agreed to go with the traditional vows instead of writing their own. They had so much to accomplish in the few weeks they allowed to organize their wedding. She barely knew what she was saying and yet she knew she meant every word she said. She loved this man with everything she had.

***

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As the ceremony came to a close a couple towards the back got up and hurried towards the exit. The man bent and left a wrapped package on the gift table. The woman took his hand squeezing tight as they turned to leave. At the door they stopped taking one last look of the happy couple sharing their first kiss as husband and wife. A brief secretive smile passed between them as they linked hands firm in the knowledge the couple was safe and happy.

Sometime later as Garrett and Verity sat in their living room surrounded by their closest family members they opened their wedding presents. Garrett grabbed the unmarked package that was left by the mystery couple.

Turning it over he frowned “this one doesn’t have a card.” Looking up he asked “is there a loose card anywhere?”

Everyone looked shaking their heads “maybe it’s on the inside” Verity suggested.

Garrett reached for the package, stuck his thumbs under the wrapping paper ready to tear into it. Verity put a restraining hand on his “maybe we should have it checked first.”

“You don’t think…” he began than stopped reading the answer in her eyes.

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“Better safe than sorry” Gene told them reaching for the box “Jeff do you think you could have someone check it out for us?”

Hesitating a moment Jeff shook his head “that won’t be necessary.”

Gene frowned ready to argue “I want that scanned before the kids open it.”

“Trust me it’s safe,” Jeff repeated his voice low and confident “go ahead and open it.”

Looking from his Uncle to his grandfather Garrett hesitated for only a second before taking the package from Gene’s hands. “Did dad tell you to do this before he died?” he asked looking over at his Uncle.

Jeff simply nodded somewhat relieved at the explanation that Garrett came up with on his own. He was rewarded with a huge grin as Garrett pulled out first class all expenses paid tickets to France for him and Verity. “Your dad wanted you to have a honeymoon,” Jeff explained “it’s something he and Celia never had.”

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“Thank you Uncle Jeff” Garrett muttered “dad would have appreciated you fulfilling his wish for us.”

Nodding Jeff added “they’re open-ended so when your ready to go just call that number and you’ll be all set.”

Gene gave him a knowing look motioning for his nephew to follow him outside. As soon as they were alone he demanded “what’s the real story behind that package? I saw your face when we all thought it was Kara up to her old tricks.” He let his words hang for a moment before adding “you no more left that package than I did.”

Jeff squirmed under the older mans scrutiny “it’s exactly as Garrett said.”

“Bull” Gene spat forcefully “don’t forget I know your tells and I know you’re lying.”

Jeff looked away unable to maintain eye contact with his Uncle “it’s what Garrett said. Ian wanted them to have a honeymoon. I didn’t have to do this for Katrina because Ian was able to do it himself even though they weren’t married yet.”

“Liar,” Gene said “I don’t know exactly what or why but you are.” He gave the younger man an angry glare “I have a feeling I know what it is though.”

“Please whatever you think it is please keep it to yourself,” Jeff half turned towards the house “at least for the time being.”

“Alright,” Gene agreed with a knowing smile “you more or less confirmed my suspicions.”

“I know,” Jeff nodded “I was never very good at lying.”

“At least not to me,” Gene confirmed feeling more lighthearted than he had in a long time.

Wedding Album

 Chapter 14 – It’s Over / Chapter 16 – My Son

Garrett – Chapter 12 -Take Care of You

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“Look at all the mice run,” the woman thought watching the emergency room light up with activity. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. It couldn’t get any better than this she thought unless of course they had found her dead. A frown flickered across her brow as a familiar young man exited the elevator. He shouldn’t be here she thought, he should still be hiding like the little rodent he was.

Standing she moved to follow him. Auggie was due for a little reminder. Her tongue split her lips as she pondered the best method to deliver it. She held the door open for an elderly couple. Smiling briefly as they mumbled thanks for her thoughtfulness.

Hurrying to the parking lot she was in time to see Auggie talking to Uncle Matt who was holding a beautiful little girl in his arms. She gasped as shock bolted through her as Uncle Matt handed the little girl to Auggie. The little girl’s squeal of delight as he lifted her in the air sent a piercing pain to her heart.

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She leaned heavily on the stair railing as her mind transported her to the distant past. She used to sound like that when daddy picked her up. His eyes dancing with joy matching her giggles. A strangled sob escaped her clenched teeth. She caught the concerned stare of a couple coming from the hospital carrying a newborn in their arms. She had to get out of there before she brought anymore attention to herself.

She turned in time to hide her face as Katrina exited the hospital. She brushed past without looking. She had been so close Kara could have reached out and touched her. Hands curled into fists as she watched Katrina run up to Auggie and kiss his cheek. The delighted toddler yelling mommy made Kara wince as if she had been stung by a million bees. How dare they disregard her demands. She told Auggie to never come back. Yet here he was playing house with the one person she despised almost as much as her mom.

Impotent rage gave her feet the energy to move from where they had been frozen. She couldn’t change the fact they were together. If it weren’t for that little girl she’d teach them a lesson they wouldn’t forget. Walking swiftly to her car she got in and slammed her fist into the dash. That horrible little girl changed everything.

***

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Tossing the light hospital blanket aside Garrett swung his legs to the side. Holding his head as the change of elevation messed with his equilibrium. Gulping in air he put his feet flat on the floor slowly standing up. Closing his eyes he took several deep breaths as he adjusted to being vertical after lying down for so long.

He shuffled to the door. Hesitating a moment listening for a moment in the outer corridor. He popped his head out glancing both ways before leaving his room behind. The bright lights hurt as his eyes struggled to adjust. Leaning against the wall he made slow progress towards his destination. He hoped that no one would stop him before he made it.

Stopping outside the door similar to the one he just left he pushed it open. His breath caught as he caught sight of her lying motionless amidst tubes and machines. Her long hair messy and dull lacking the shine he remembered. Moving inside he let the door swing shut behind him.

“Mom,” he choked out between the lump in his throat. Eyes swimming with tears he made slow cautious movements towards the only chair in the room. He dropped into it, cradling his head in his hands. He prayed to whatever powers that were listening.

***

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Sometime later he felt a hand land lightly on his shoulder. Jerking awake he looked up into the concerned eyes of the one person he least expected to see. She smiled down at him. Her voice hushed “I knew I’d find you here.”

Blinking back tears Garrett nodded leaning back in the chair “I had to see her.”

“She’ll be alright,” Verity assured him sounding convincing despite her own doubts “the doctors say she’ll be alright one she wakes up and is able to eat to get her strength back.”

“She almost starved to death,” Garrett growled through tight clenched teeth. His hands doubled into fists “how could Kara do that to her own mother?”

“I don’t know,” Verity said kneeling beside his chair. She took his hand unable to find the right words to comfort him. It didn’t seem like enough. She had to find his dad. She had to bring him home.

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Silence fell between them as they became lost within their uneasy thoughts. Garrett moved restlessly in the chair as his muscles protested their long inactivity. “What am I going to do?” he asked sounding like a lost little boy.

“You’re going to let me help you back to your room,” Verity told him. She smiled gently at him as his mind warred with his body and lost.

“Alright” he mumbled looking away as his cheeks began to burn at the admission of his own weakness.

Without thinking Verity put a tender hand up to stroke his cheek “it’s going to be alright. I’m not giving up. I’m going to find your dad.”

Tears ran from his eyes like a river as if a dam had broken inside him. “I’m so afraid” he admitted as his body was racked with shudders.

“I know,” she soothed pulling him into her arms “you don’t have to be anymore.”

***

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After making sure Garrett was tucked away in his bed asleep Verity sat beside him letting her mind wander. What was Kara’s motivation? Did she want control? That wasn’t it. Didn’t feel right. If she wanted control she’d have kept tormenting the family. Making them do things to make their lives miserable.

Her eyes drooped as she leaned her chin into her hand. Control wasn’t what she wanted. Kara’s motivation went deeper than that more obsessive. Yawning Verity got up. Pacing the floor trying to see through the murky depths of what she knew about Kara. Somewhere in all of what she knew was the answer. Once she asked the right question. She’d have the answer. Once she had the answer she’d find Ian.

Everyone was giving up Verity thought as she watched Garrett sleeping. He tossed restlessly becoming tangled in his sheets, lips moving as he mumbled something in his sleep. A nightmare? A suppressed memory? If she found the right question she find the answer. She had to look at the situation from a different angle. Kara wasn’t born a monster. Something happened deep inside her, something crucial had snapped.

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Nodding with renewed determination she went to Garrett’s side bent and lightly kissed his lips. “I love you,” she whispered. She watched as a small smile replaced the frown that had been there almost as if he had heard her. “One day when this is all over,” she promised “I’ll tell you everything.”

Turning she left the room. When the door closed behind her she leaned against it. She needed to delve into the mind of Kara. The place to start was with someone who knew her as she grew up. She wished she could talk to Celia but that wasn’t an option. She walked the empty halls towards the one person she hoped could enlighten her.

***

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He woke with a jerk the metal chain clanking around his ankle reminding him he was someone’s prized pet. Tethered so he couldn’t escape. Cut off from everyone and everything he ever cared about. Unable to sleep he swung his legs over the edge of the bed the chain tugging on his leg.

Restless he got up and prowled his cage. Everything he could ever want was crammed into the small space. A TV where he watched the breaking news that Celia had been found.

Overcome with joy when they announced that she was alive. In critical condition but alive. He hadn’t believed it possible. The last image he had of her was her unconscious body tied hand and foot on the living room floor. The explosion. He thought she was still inside as Kara made him watch as Garrett walked towards the house. He struggled against his ties trying to call out to his son. Warn him. Helpless tears streaked his face as he watched his son’s lifeless body catapult through the air when the explosion took place.

How could the little girl he helped raise do this to the family who loved her? How long did she intend to keep him as her prized pet? She’d feed him three times a day like clock work. Once he was finished eating the tasteless slop she’d give him she’d crawl into his lap.

After so many weeks he knew exactly what she wanted to hear. His mouth would form the words that made him want to vomit afterwards. He knew the words well. They were the ones he had said the night the police brought her home from John’s. How could his words of love become the basis of her twisted hate?

Glancing at the clock on the wall dreading every second that brought him closer to feeding time. His leg began to throb in anticipation of her arrival and her tender loving care.

***

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As if right on cue the door opened and Kara breezed into the room. “I brought you a present,” she announced happily pointing at the wheelchair she rolled into the room with a bright red ribbon around it.

Ian stared in horror at her gift then at her pleased happy face. “Sweetie I don’t need a wheelchair anymore.”

“We’ll take care of that soon enough,” she told him as she threw her arms around him “tell me how much you love me.” He mumbled the prerequisite words. “Tell me I’m your favorite and how you’ll never leave me” she demanded.

Ian stammered to comply. It was off pattern. He was supposed to eat first. Mind wrestling with the implications. He tried to keep calm while doing the things he knew she wanted, no demanded of him.

“I’m going to take care of you daddy,” she told him taking a step back. She picked up a long solid object she kept hidden behind her back. “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.”

He seriously doubted that he thought as he stared at the long metal bat she held steady in her hands. Her eyes dancing within their sockets as she moved towards him. The heavy chain dragged on his leg a reminder he had little room to maneuver.

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She swung low attempting to hit his leg “once this is over” she said as if she were discussing the weather “we can get rid of that cumbersome chain.”

“I prefer it to the wheelchair,” he grunted as the bat connected with his shin. Pain shot through him as he tried to dodge and failed.

“I’ll take care of you,” she told him swinging again frustration making her reckless swinging at anything she could reach.

A small cry of pain escaped him as the bat connected with his kidneys. He fell onto the bed face down where she delivered several more blows.

“Why can’t you see this is for your own good? I’ll take care of you forever and ever” she cried as she delivered one blow after another.

“If you really loved me you’d let me go,” he mumbled falling into a pit of darkness where only pain existed.

***

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Verity spent several hours listening to Gene and Aimee reminisce about their grandchildren. She’d prompt them with the occasional question overall she had a pretty clear picture of two parents who did the best they could. Of course there had been mistakes. The biggest being when Celia let John take Kara. Gene insisted there had been signs before but it became worse and more intractable after that. Something had snapped inside her causing her to obsess over needing all of Ian’s attention to the exclusion of everyone else.

She hadn’t singled Garrett out until he became a teenager. She hadn’t become truly dangerous until after he turned eighteen. Had her warped thinking prevented her from hurting anyone until after Garrett was old enough to care for himself? Even the baddest criminals had a soft spot for something. Could Kara’s soft spot be defenseless children?

Where did this new understanding leave her? She wasn’t sure if it helped or hindered her to know how Kara thought. Having an understanding of her thought processes might help her determine what she might do next. It was time she dug deep into the adult Kara now. Find out her habits, her hobbies, her schedule and where she called home. She smiled catching Gene watching her with an inquisitive expression in his dark eyes.

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“What’s you’re next move?” he asked.

“I’m going hunting” she told him “I’m not coming back until I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

Gene took her hand “be careful” he patted her hand “knowing Kara she’s been watching us. By now she’s figured out your feelings for Garrett.”

“But I…”

“Haven’t told him,” he gave her a knowing smile “we all know. Be careful. You’re as much of a target as the rest of us.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. It’s not going to stop me from doing what’s necessary.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek “I’m going to bring him home.”

***

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Moans filled the room as Ian tried to pry open his eyes. He hurt in areas he didn’t know existed. Once he had passed out Kara must have continued to administer her brand of tender loving care. He put a hand up to feel the tender spots on his scalp. Hissing in pain he jerked his hand away. His fingers smeared with blood.

Feeling battered he wanted to close his eyes to the pain his step daughter had inflicted upon him. He pushed himself up. Swaying as his vision swam before him. Swallowing he fought to remain conscious. The simple movement caused a chorus of pain to shout within him. Biting his lip he tried to push past the torment his body was going through. He swung his feet to the floor. Stood for a brief moment before his knee buckled under his weight.

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Panting in pain he struggled into a sitting position on the floor. He clutched his knee. It was hot, swollen to twice its size straining against the seams of his pants.

The chain was still wrapped securely around his ankle. Ian could feel the blisters where the chain had rubbed the skin away. Holding his breath he hoisted himself to his feet leaning his weight on his one good leg. He dragged the other behind him. He made slow painful progress to the sink that he used to give himself sponge baths.

Without bothering to undress he leveraged his bad leg up running cold water over his knee. He hoped the cold water would help the swelling go down. His eye wandered around the room taking in the damage. His gift lay on its side dented and mangled. The bright red ribbon shredded into several small pieces that lay scattered throughout the room.

Gulping Ian wondered if he looked as bad as the room did. There was no doubt in his mind that Kara had completely lost whatever shred to sanity she had left. If he hoped to survive he had to find a way to escape.

 Chapter 11 – One Is Found / Chapter 13 – Should Have Known Better

Garrett – Chapter 11 – One Is Found

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Verity had followed her counterpart for almost a week. He was a regular visitor to the private rooms above the diner. Otherwise he did nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that indicated he was hiding anything or anyone. He lived alone in a nondescript apartment building. His neighbors thought of him as a nice guy who kept to himself.

She sat pondering this from within her car. What should her next move be? Time was running out. The chances of finding Ian and Celia alive were face dwindling away. She squeezed her eyes shut as she was bombarded with images of Garrett looking to her for answers. Her promise she made him to find his parents whether dead or alive. She couldn’t let him down.

A light came on inside the apartment she had been watching. Odd she thought he wasn’t due home for at least two hours maybe longer. She and Jeff had arranged for him to stay late for a performance review. During the review she planned on doing some snooping inside his apartment. Curiosity drove her to investigate who his unexpected visitor was. For all she knew it was a relative come to visit just turning on a light as the apartment grew darker as the sun went down.

Making her way up the semi-dark stairwell Verity kept her senses on high alert. She could hear the inhabitants inside the apartment building going on about their lives. A baby crying. Pot and pans clattering as someone fixed dinner. A TV blasting a high-speed car chase. Somewhere else loud rock music blasted through the thin walls. All normal activities of normal people going about their boring normal lives.

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She leaned against the door listening for sounds of movement from within. Silence greeted her. No one had passed her along the stairwell. Had someone left by the fire escape? Why would they do that if they were just visiting? The only answer Verity could come up with was whoever had come didn’t intend to be seen.

She was about to knock on the off-chance it was just a relative when the door handle moved. Heart pounding she moved to the side so as not to be been right away. A dark silhouette moved swiftly from the apartment interior. The dark figure was slim, of average height, female in appearance Verity surmised before stepping from the shadows.

The figure stopped in front of her. Light blue eyes widened in surprise before narrowing in recognition. The masked figure charged, slamming into Verity sending her careening into the wall. Stunned Verity slumped to the floor as the figure in black disappeared down the stairs.

Gulping for air Verity sucked oxygen into her laboring lungs. Her fingers shook as her body trembled as she tried to her phone out. She pulled up Jeff’s number and waited for him to answer. As soon as she heard the click she cut off the curt perfunctory “hello” with “ask the traitor who was coming to visit him tonight?”

***

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Jeff felt his body turn to stare at his detective while he listened to Verity describe the person that attacked her in the hallway. He switched his phone to speaker allowing everyone to hear. He observed the man’s interested face turn from shock to dismay and finally horror as it soaked in that he had been found out. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I don’t know what you mean?” he leaned back in his chair eyes darting from side to side.

“Don’t play dumb” Jeff’s voice bellowed in the small room “give me a little credit. We know that Kara was working with someone. Someone on the inside. There was no other way she could have accomplished what she had otherwise.” he let his words sink in.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man stammered sinking deeper into the chair as if he wanted to disappear into it.

Jeff smiled sensing victory “I also had the remains of my niece reexamined by an independent doctor. Do you know what she discovered?” The man shook his head “guess” Jeff demanded enjoying the man’s confusion “No? Alright I’ll tell you,” he drummed his fingers on his desk prolonging the man’s misery “it wasn’t my niece.”

The man jerked “of course it was.”

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Shaking his head Jeff glared at the man “no it wasn’t. It was someone approximately her age and size. The teeth were meant to mislead us into believing it was Kara.” He smiled nastily at his colleague “I have to admit it was good. Too good. The only way Kara could have done this was with your help.”

“If you had any proof of that I wouldn’t be sitting here” the man said regaining some of his confidence.

Snapping his fingers Jeff summoned a couple of police officers into the room. Jeff watched silently as the officers read the man his Miranda Rights. When the were finished he asked “where are my cousin and his wife?”

He received a cold icy stare in response. “It’s the only way you can help yourself. If you cooperate with us I’ll talk to the judge on your behalf.”

“You don’t have anything on me,” the man snarled.

“Oh I have plenty,” Jeff said shuffling through the autopsy report “the jar fragment that was recovered had perfectly preserved teeth. They were Kara’s without a doubt.” He paused to let his words sink in “there was also an embedded wisdom tooth. The DNA matched that of 22-year-old Shelly Michaels.”

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Verity walked into the crowded office saying “she was the daughter of the waitress at the diner you frequent on a regular basis.” The man’s eyes bulged in fear “what happened? She turn you down unlike the prostitutes upstairs.”

“We had a fling. She got pregnant,” the man cried desperate for them to understand “I had to do something. I already lost my wife but I couldn’t have an illegitimate child.”

“That something meaning murder?” Jeff shook his head “unbelievable. How did you meet Kara?”

“If I tell you. You’ll get me a deal?” the man requested almost pleading.

“I’ll talk to the judge,” Jeff repeated “I’ll explain how cooperative you were.”

Shaking his head the man mumbled “that’s not good enough. I can’t go to jail.”

“It’s the best you’re gonna get,” Jeff told him “take it or leave it.”

***

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“It wasn’t supposed to be like this” he mumbled hanging his head “I’m a dead man. No matter how I look at it. Kara will kill me if I talk.” Taking a deep steadying breath he looked up at Jeff “I met her at the diner. She took it over when her old man disappeared.”

Jeff nodded remembering how Celia had told him how Kara had boasted she had gotten rid of John, her biological father. John was probably dead but …. he looked over at Verity “we better check into any unidentified bodies in the morgue around forty years old.”

Nodding Verity made a note to do as instructed. She had a feeling the body count was going to mount before they caught up with Kara. Not that the world was missing much with the loss of a low life like John. Shelly Michaels was another story. A young college student had so much going for her.

“I didn’t kill that girl,” he blubbered “I know that’s what you think. I offered to pay for an abortion. It was the baby I wanted to get rid of. Kara had other ideas.”

Nodding Jeff stared at the man before saying “you always had a thing for Celia. Celia told me how you begged her to run away with you.”

“Yes I admit I was attracted to her. Kara used my feelings for her mom against me. I turned to Shelly for comfort. Convinced to color her hair to look more like Celia. When I had fallen for her Kara killed her. Kara made sure I could never go back to my ex-wife and kids. Blackmailed me to help her. I had no choice but to help her.”

Jeff rounded his desk sitting in the edge “what was in it for you?” he asked “Kara hated her mother. We should have found Celia’s body in the rubble. We didn’t it. There has to be a reason why.”

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“I…” he licked his lips “I convinced Kara that I could fake her death. All I’d need was a few of her teeth. My dad was taxidermist. I know how to do it after years of helping my dad. It would have worked if you hadn’t started to dig deeper.”

Rubbing his chin Jeff sighed “that explains why we have Kara’s teeth on Shelly’s jaw bone.” He gave the man a disgusted look “I suppose your payment was Celia.”

“Fat lot of good that did me,” the man complained “she’d rather starve then let me touch her.”

Pouncing in his words Jeff demanded “where is she?”

“I’m not saying another word without a lawyer” the man laughed in Jeff’s face.

“Get him out of here,” Jeff told the officers “we need a search warrant for the diner before Kara decides to move her base of operations.”

“I’m on it” the officer assigned to work with Jeff said.

***

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An hour later they were serving a bewildered waitress a search warrant. They barged into the upstairs rooms cutting both clients and prostitute unawares. They searched every room, store-room and closet but there was no sign of what they were looking for.

Turning to the sullen closed lipped prostitutes Jeff asked if any of them had seen Kara. They all remained silent as they were handcuffed and escorted from the building along with their clients.

“Can I see those pictures?” a hesitant female voice asked.

Looking up Jeff found the waitress holding her hand out. “That girl” she said waving the picture of Kara in the air “is a bad seed. Worse than her father.”

“You know John?” Jeff asked keeping his voice neutral wanting her to talk to him.

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“We grew up in the same foster home. John and his sister enjoyed hurting the rest of us. We were too scared to tell anyone though. I was already working here when John stole it from my husband.”

“This used to be your restaurant?” Jeff prompted when the woman fell silent.

A sad smile crossed her face “once upon a time it was a good place to eat. I don’t know what happened but after a month or two after John took over my husband disappeared. My kids had to eat so I stayed. I knew bad things were happening upstairs but what else could I do?” She took a deep breath trying to control her tremors. “John just quit coming around six months ago. I hoped something awful had happened to him. Then his daughter showed up saying she was in charge now. I never doubted she was John’s daughter. She was just like him only worse.”

“What about the other woman?” Verity asked.

“She’s here,” she said walking towards a door “in the basement.” They followed her done the rickety stairs “I tried to sneak her food whenever I could. Kara caught me. Said she’d hurt my Shelly if I continued to bring her food.” She stopped in front of a door “I haven’t been down here for over a week. I don’t know if she’s still alive or not.”

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“It’s locked” Jeff said after trying the lock “Do you have the key?”

“Kara took it” the woman said bursting into tears “my Shelly’s gone isn’t she? Kara killed my girl didn’t she?” She began to sob “I did everything she told me and she still hurt my girl.”

Jeff unable to take the woman’s sobs took her by the shoulders “I’m sorry.”

“I knew when I didn’t see her when you took the working girls out she was gone.” Jeff motioned for an officer to take her upstairs. While they worked on breaking the door open.

Ten minutes later Jeff stepped into the dark dank room. He moved his flashlight around. He saw something in the corner. Hear pounding an irregular rhythm he approached it.

“Celia?” he called her name with a mixture of dread and relief. Relief they had finally found her and dread that they found her too late to help her. The stench in the room was overwhelming. She must have been locked down here ever since the explosion.

Wrinkling his nose in disgust he knelt beside the still form “Celia” he called again softly. He reached a tentative hand out to check for a pulse. “She’s alive” he called out shaking with relief. “Get an ambulance here ASAP.” He stood up “we’ll need forensics down here. Let’s hope Kara left a clue where she has Ian.”

***

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Jeff arrived at the hospital a few minutes after the ambulance. He left Verity behind to handle things at the diner. She was young but there wasn’t anyone else he knew could handle the responsibility. He checked with the doctors before going up to his Uncles room. Opening the door he found his Aunt fluttering around like an agitated butterfly while Gene paced the floor. “Am I interrupting something?” Jeff said upon entering.

“I’m checking myself out,” Gene announced.

Looking towards Aimee he asked “have the doctors given him the ok to leave?” He could see from his Aunt’s anxious demeanor and the beeping machines that no they hadn’t.

“I feel fine,” Gene protested “I can’t just sit in here and do nothing while my son is god knows where.”

“That’s actually why I’m here,” Jeff said causing both of them to look up at him. He wanted to crawl under the nearest bed at the hope he saw shining through their eyes.

“You found him” Aimee clapped her hands together.

“Err..”

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“Aimee” Gene put a comforting hand on her shoulder “sweet heart I think you should probably sit down.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?” she cried falling into Gene’s arms.

He was handling this all wrong Jeff thought watching the older couple. “I’m sorry,” he managed “we haven’t found Ian. We did find Celia. We’re hoping to find a clue to Ian’s locations from where Celia was being held.”

Gene managed to get Aimee seated before turning to Jeff. “Where is she?” A part of him expected he was needed to go to the morgue to ID his daughter-in-law’s body.

“She’s here, in the hospital” Jeff told him “she’s alive.” He tried to infuse his words with confidence and hope. From the expression on his Uncle’s face it wasn’t successful.

“Alive as in walking talking alive or alive as in barely breathing,” Gene demanded.

Jeff opened his mouth and closed it again finding nothing appropriate to say. There was no easy way to say it “it’s bad” he finally said shivering in the cool air of the hospital room.”If we hadn’t found her when we did she would have been dead in a day or two.”

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“You did your best,” Gene said consoling him pulling him into a hug.

“I should have done a better job,” he sobbed on his Uncle’s shoulder “I wanted to save you from losing another person you cared about. I swore I’d keep him save.”

“It’s not your fault,” Gene soothed despite the hollow ache in his heart.

“I should have done more. Should have seen what Kara was capable of” Jeff cried heaping more guilt and regret upon his wide shoulders.

Holding him tight Gene continued “you and I both know there’s very little we can do to protect ourselves or others from a determined psychopath. Kara is the most dangerous kind. We all remember her as a sweet little girl. We still tend to expect her to be that girl even now. Even though we know what she’s done.”

“I promised I’d find him” Jeff sniffed “I’m not going to give up until I do.”

Gene shook his head “son it’s time you went home to your wife and kids. You’ve done your best…”

“No” he shouted “I can’t give up. Not until I find him.” He ran from the room. Ran from the memories that haunted him. He couldn’t look at Ian’s kids until he was able to give them an answer as to why. Give them the closure he felt he never got.

 Chapter 10 – Back to Square One / Chapter 12 – Take Care Of You

Garrett – Chapter 10 – Back to Square One

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Jeff looked up from his desk as someone came into his office. He smiled at the blue skinned girl as she sat down in a chair opposite his desk. She was young. She was good. He knew from experience she wouldn’t speak until spoken too. He wished more of his subordinates were like that. “What have you found?” he asked steepling his hands on his desk.

“Not much,” she admitted “she bought the materials used in the bomb from the local hardware store. It’s easy enough to do with instructions readily available on the internet.”

“Unfortunately” Jeff muttered. He glanced at the framed photo of his wife and kids on his desk. He longed to go home. Not until this case was closed though. He had to see it through to the bitter end. Jeff had resigned from the police force not long after losing his long time partner Zayne Thompson in the line of duty. Zayne had saved his life by sacrificing his own. He felt responsible and it only spurred him on to do his best in solving the most difficult cases. As a private investigator Jeff was free to travel and take on cases all over the country. In most cases he worked closely with the local police department while he ran things.

“This isn’t your fault,” Verity said interrupting his thoughts “you did everything you could to keep your cousin and his family safe.”

“Are you speaking to me or yourself?” Jeff asked with a half smile “you feel as responsible as I do. We failed.” He shoved the open files onto the floor watching the papers flutter to the floor.

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Verity flinched watching him as he lowered his head to the desk. His words hung in the air stinging as if she had been slapped. “You’re right,” she mumbled “I keep going over it and over it in my head. What could I have done differently? What did I miss?”

“And” he prompted watching her closely.

Shrugging she looked up, face drawn “I don’t know. Wherever it went wrong it wasn’t on our watch.”

Nodding he rubbed his chin “that’s my conclusion as well.” He hated to admit it but there was only one explanation. “Kara had an accomplice” he said leaning back in his chair.

“Would you like me to follow the other body guard?” Verity asked. She had come to the same conclusion he did. She wanted to find the traitor among them. She wanted to find Garrett’s parents. She wanted to bring them home. Dead or alive either was better then not knowing. She caught the curt nod Jeff gave her. She stood in one swift graceful movement like a tigress on the prowl.

Jeff’s eyes followed her from the room. A girl in a million. No wonder his nephew was so taken with her. He suspected she shared his feelings but was too professional to ever let it interfere with her job.

***

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Katrina sat beside Garrett’s bed holding his hand. It wasn’t fair she wanted scream it from the highest building in Starlight Shores. He should be up enjoying life. Graduating high school. Getting ready for college. He shouldn’t be lying motionless hooked up to machines.

She blinked back tears as someone walked into the room. She didn’t look up. Whoever it was was either a doctor or a nurse. She jumped when a hand came down on her shoulder. Glancing up she found August looking down at her. Jumping to her feet she threw her arms around him.

He held her sobbing, shaking body close to his. He mumbled inane words of comfort stroking her hair. As soon as he heard Kara was dead he hopped on the earliest plane he could get. How ironic to be killed by her own bomb he thought.

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“Where’s Sarah?” she asked once she was able to talk.

“In the waiting room with a million other relatives” he told her “she’s safe.”

“Never doubted it for a minute” she said standing on her toes to kiss his nose.

His hands tightened around her waist until his mouth sought hers. “Get a room” a voice said startling both of them.

Pulling away from August she ran over to her brother’s bedside “Garrett” she cried tears streaming down her cheeks. Only this time they were tears of joy.

***

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A nurse walked into the room smiling brightly at the cute old couple holding hands. “I have good news for you two.”

Aimee and Gene exchanged excited glances before turning towards the young woman “what news?” Aimee asked squeezing her husband’s hand.

“Your grandson is awake,” she announced with obvious delight.

Gene struggled to sit up to the consternation and objections of both his wife and the nurse. “Now Mr Bennett if you want me to sneak you information you have to lie down. We don’t want the old battle ax charging in here now do we?”

Stubbornly Gene resisted their efforts to push him back to the mattress obviously wanting to risk the ogre’s ire. Aimee’s pleas reached his ears emphasizing his hate for hospitals. “Ugh” he growled relenting. He allowed them to push him back to the bed. “Fine have it your way” he mumbled turning his face away from their concern. He hated being sick and made to feel helpless when there was so much he should be doing.

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Aimee patted his shoulder in approval. She knew how much this was costing him. She knew he wanted to be out there front and center looking for his son. Instead he was practically tied to a hospital bed by tubes and machines that monitored all his bodily functions. She knew how much he hated feeling weak, helpless, mostly he dreaded the day when he wouldn’t be needed. A useless relic, good for telling tales and holding babies. She needed to find a way to make him feel relevant again. “I love you” she whispered kissing his lips.

She stood up to leave when Gene grabbed her hand “don’t leave” he requested.

“I’ll be back,” she assured him “I’m going to check on Garrett. Besides I need to give someone else the chance to visit with you.” She smiled at him hoping to reassure him. The doubt in his eyes troubled her. Didn’t he think his family wanted to spend time with him? Were his old insecurities resurfacing after so many years?

***

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Jeff sat staring at the door Verity just slipped through. Drumming his fingers on the desktop something didn’t feel right. He was missing something. Picking up his phone he punched in the number for the morgue. “This is Jeffrey Bennett. Please have my niece’s remains sent to Dr Campbell.”

He waited a moment clearing his thoughts before making another call. “Dr Campbell? Thank you for taking the time to review the remains ….Yes yes very sad…” he took a deep breath before asking his question “is there anyway someone could fake their death by falsifying dental records?” He listened for a moment ” can you check? I want to make sure that the remains are who we think they are.”

He tossed his phone onto his desk. He got up from behind his desk to pace around the room. He knew something was wrong. It was to convenient. Too good to be true. He picked up his phone as another thought occurred to him. “Dr Campbell yeah it’s me again. Can you verify the age of the remains? Yes I mean the victim.” He stifled his irritation. Dr Campbell was one of the best in her field but she lacked the ability to think outside the box without prompting.

He had a very bad feeling that he knew who was in the morgue and it wasn’t Kara. He hated to call his Uncle and make the request he had to make. His Uncle was still weak from the heart attack he didn’t want to add any more pressure and worry on his shoulders. If there was another way to get what he needed he would do it without thinking twice.

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“Hello” a tired bored voice spoke in his ear.

“Uncle Gene?” Jeff said gauging how he was doing by the sound of his voice “I need your help.”

“What can I do stuck in a hospital bed?” Gene asked.

Jeff could hear the irritation in the older man’s voice. No doubt that was exactly how Jeff sounded the few times he had been injured bad enough to be hospitalized. He had a new understanding for what he must have put Lisa through. “Are you still Celia’s power of attorney?”

“Yeah” Gene replied “why do you ask? Did you find her?”

“Err not exactly,” he cleared his throat “I think the body we found may not be Kara’s. I think she somehow made it to look like it is.” Jeff hated knowing what he was telling his Uncle was going to be added stress the older man didn’t need.

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“I’m gonna guess you want me to authorize access to Celia’s records” Gene concluded.

The slight wobble in his voice was the only sign of the stress he was under. Jeff was shocked that he had put it together without him having to go into detail. “Yes. I’m sorry. If I could find another way I …”

“Nonsense,” Gene barked at him sounding almost like his old self “bring the papers over you need me to sign. We can sort things out later.”

“You do realize if I’m right…”

“I know. It means Kara is still alive and my grandchildren are still in danger,” Gene told him “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

Jeff smiled at that “I’ll bring the papers this afternoon.”

***

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Verity sat in her car waiting for the young detective she was following to come out of the diner. The restaurant must be busier then it looks from the outside. Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel she waited. What was taking him so long? Glancing at the time, an hour had gone by since the last time she checked.

Something wasn’t right. She could feel it. Had he discovered he was being followed? He didn’t seem that bright in Verity’s estimation. How had he been able to pass himself off as an equitable detective for Jeff to hire him as a bodyguard? Jeff seemed to be an intelligent guy. Getting out of her car she ran across the street towards the restaurant with a feeling she had underestimated the guy or over estimated her own abilities.

Walking into the restaurant she was shocked to find it almost empty. Besides herself there was one or two occupied tables and a waitress at the counter. A cook in the back with one or two other workers. The detective definitely ducked in here to escape his tail. Grimly she walked up to the waitress “do you know where this guy went?” She handed her a picture of herself and him playing pool together, all smiles.

The woman scrutinized the picture before nodding “your his girlfriend?” she asked.

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“Yeah” Verity replied deciding to play along.

The waitress put a hand on her shoulder “sweetie that boyfriend of yours is no good.” The woman looked around making sure no one was nearby to over hear her. Leaning in close she whispered “he’s upstairs in one of our special rooms.”

Unconsciously Verity looked up before turning her attention back to the helpful older woman. “Thank you” she managed before turning to leave. He hadn’t after all ditched her on purpose. He obviously had no idea she was following him. If he had known he wouldn’t be upstairs. The manner of the older woman gave her the impression the guy was regular.

She ran to her car hoping he wouldn’t come out while she was exposed crossing the street. How long had he been coming here? Was this why his wife divorced him? Was this where he met Kara? Was this how she was able to bribe him into helping her? Did he know where Ian and Celia were located? Could this be where Celia was being held?

***

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Garrett blinked up at his grandma. Her pink eyes were so sad. Slowly he moved his hand towards her. Every muscle in his body hurt. Biting his tongue to keep from crying out he squeezed her hand. “Where’s mom and dad?” he asked through a throat dry and hoarse. He had seen everyone else. They all avoided his questions unable to meet his eyes “are they dead?”

“We don’t know,” she said reaching to caress his cheek.

He could feel his lips trembling as she talked. What did she mean they didn’t know? Weren’t they in the house when the bomb went off? He had thought he had seen his mom in the kitchen when he opened the door. Did she think skirting the truth would be better then telling him? “Tell me please,” he pleaded “I need to know.”

Tears beaded the corners of her eyes. Lifting his hand to kiss his fingers she said “I would if I could. We don’t know. We expected their bodies to be found in the house but they weren’t there.”

“Where are they?” he cried trying to sit up. He couldn’t imagine his parents not being home. They were always home when he got there after school. If they weren’t there then who was in the house?

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“Your Uncle Jeff will find them,” Aimee said giving him a small stiff smile hoping to impart confidence.

Garrett stared at her a moment before nodding. She was trying to keep his mind from dwelling on it. He asked “where’s grandpa?” Her eyes flickered melancholy in the sharp intake of breath.

“He had a heart attack” she finally told him “he’s going to be alright.” She reached for his hand “he was in the hospital when it happened. He’s too ornery to die.”

“Grandma” he swallowed down the anxiety he felt as he watched her eyes fill with tears “he’s going to be alright.”

“I know baby” she said “it’s just been so much.”

***

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There was little to do but wait for Dr Campbell to finish up the autopsy on the body. He drummed his fingers on the desk. He had a feeling he was missing something, something important. He grabbed his phone before it was able to ring “hello.”

“Mr Bennett” Verity’s voice was low but clear “I followed Mr Stevens to a house of ill repute.”

He smothered the inappropriate giggle that threatened to escape. The girl was too formal when she called in to give her reports. His attempts to get her to call him Jeff had failed so he resigned himself to being Mr Bennett. The address she read off to him sounded familiar. Why would he find it familiar? He typed in the address on his computer “isn’t that a restaurant?”

“It is. The upstairs has private rooms that are used by prostitutes.” She told him using the same tone she would if she were discussing the weather. “One of the waitresses identified him as a regular.”

Clicking the pen as he thought Jeff asked “do you think this is where he met Kara?”

“I think it’s a possibility” she agreed “how many married woman would want to find out their loving husband had been with prostitutes. This might be what she threatened him with in order to coerce him into helping her.”

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Curious to know what she would say Jeff asked “do you think we should bring him in for questioning?”

A lengthy pause ensued as she mauled over her answer “not yet. Let me follow him for a little longer.”

“Alright” Jeff nodded in approval “call me if he leads you anywhere interesting or if you need back up.”

Silence greeted his request. “Verity I’m serious. Call me. I don’t want to have to tell Garrett you’ve been hurt. He’s been through enough.”

“Alright I’ll call,” she agreed despite the stubborn resentful tone she used.

“See that you do,” Jeff ordered “we’ve had enough tragedy to last us for a lifetime in this family.”

 Chapter 9 – One Will Die / Chapter 11 – One Is Found