Tag Archive | Ian Bennett

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 /

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 19 – The Lost Is Found

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A month later Garrett stared sullenly at the spot where his son’s crib had stood inside their cramped living room. He had fought tooth and nail not to take it down but after a month Verity had taken it down herself. He understood how she felt about seeing it empty day after day and how it was a silent reminder of what they had lost. She failed to consider how taking the crib down felt to him. It felt like failure, defeat, admittance that Kara had won.

“Garrett,” Celia spoke gently behind him. Walking into the room she found him staring at the spot Trober’s crib had been “honey they’re going to find him.”

“When” he shouted his voice bouncing off the walls “every minute he’s with her is hurting him.”

She reached a had out touching his stiff taut shoulders “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

“What am I going to do?” he cried turning into her eyes blinded with tears “what if he never comes home? What if he comes back and he’s not the same? What if she’s warped him beyond repair?”

“I don’t know,” she pulled him close feeling his body shake with the force of his sobs.

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When he had his tears under control he hugged his mom close leaning his face on her shoulder drawing comfort from her like he had when he was little. “Where’s Verity?” he asked knowing before he asked that she was looking for clues.

“She’s checking with the police for any new leads,” she said her voice reluctant as her son pulled away from her with an irritated expression.

“She’s always searching for Kara,” he said pacing around the small room arms swinging wide “she’s never here when I need her. Something is always more important.”

Celia listened to his ramblings growing more and more concerned “Garrett are you afraid she doesn’t love you?”

He stopped stunned running his hands through is hair “I don’t know.” He flopped onto the couch “I just don’t know.” He ran ha hand over his face “she’s always so obsessed with finding Kara. She tries to hide what she’s doing. She never let’s me in.” He closed his eyes leaning back “I feel like I’ve lost everything. My son. My wife. I’m all alone in this.”

Sitting beside him Celia took his face between her hands “you’re not alone. You have us. Your father and I. Your family. We’re not going anywhere.”

“I know” he blinked back tears “I’m so glad you and dad are ok.” He erupted into tears again. This time he felt his mom pull him close. Something she had been doing a lot of since he found out she was alive It was like he was given half his wish list only to have the other half ripped from him.

***

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Kara turned up the volume on the old stereo that came with the house. The screams from the brat filled the house becoming louder and louder with each successive day. She hated the dirty diapers, the snotty runny nose, the tears, the piercing screams, the stubborn refusal to call her mommy. The sight of the child irritated her.

She got up stomped outside. She needed air. Breathing deeply the clear crisp air she wondered why anyone would ever want children. They were disgusting vile things. Once her nose was clear of the smell of dirty diapers she picked up the paper someone had thrown in the nearby rose bush. The front page was all about the kidnapping.

She gave the paper a satisfied smug smile. Her plan had been flawless. Her brother and wife were shattered, broken. The only thing that could have made it better was if Garrett had died from the gas exposure. That would have been a pleasant bonus.

She flipped through the pages frowning as came to pictures of familiar faces “not his can’t be,” she muttered to herself “they can’t be alive.” The pictures told her otherwise. It couldn’t be denied. Ian and Celia were very much alive. Screaming she crumpled the paper between her hands.

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She shivered growing cold. Retreating into the house she paced the floor. Back and forth. Her arms waving as her face became pinched and drawn. There was no way she was going to let the Bennett’s win. She’d have the last laugh. They’ll regret ever rejecting her.

She turned towards the door that held her prize. Her ultimate achievement. Throwing the door open her senses were assaulted by the stench from a months worth of dirty diapers and unwashed baby bottom.

Trober looked up squeaking at the scary apparition standing within the door frame. Shivering he cowered in the corner sucking on his thumb.

Kara drowned down at the frightened toddler. Other than his initial shock he never made a sound. His large blue eyes stared at her. His eyes reminded her of her brother. She hated those eyes. They were the same as her dad’s and in he end he too rejected her. Ian should be dead. Garrett should be dead. What she failed to do with the first two times would be rectified with the third. Didn’t they say third times the charm?

***

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Jeff looked across at Ian. He could see the month long search was wearing thin on his cousin. His shoulders drooped. His eyes had a dull lifeless clouded look to them. “We’ll find him,” Jeff tried to give him his best self-assured encouraging smile. The one that instilled confidence in all of his clients.

“It’s my fault,” Ian muttered as if he hadn’t heard anything Jeff said to him “all of it. It’s my fault.”

“You can’t say that,” Jeff objected “Kara’s an unstable personality. You had no idea …”

“Yes I did,” Ian blurted “I knew she was obsessed withe me. I still rejected her. If I hadn’t…”

“Ian don’t,” Jeff shook his head “you don’t know what might have happened if you had played along with her delusions.”

“I do know,” Ian insisted “my family would have been safe. Free from her attacks. Trober would be safe at home with his parents.”

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“Ian,” Jeff shouted catching his cousin’s attention “I won’t let you blame yourself. That’s only distracting you from the bigger picture.”

“Which is what?” Ian sniffed.

“Finding Trober,” Jeff said “concentrate on finding him. Nothing else matters. Blaming ourselves will only cloud our thinking. Muddle our emotions.”

“You’re right,” Ian took a deep breath “I just lose focus when I’m dealing with her.”

“With reason. We need to focus on Trober right now,” Jeff repeated squeezing Ian’s shoulder firmly.

“Alright where do we look today?” Ian asked with a small shake of the head.

***

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Verity sat outside the police station. They had escorted her outside after she started screaming at how stupid everyone was involved in the case. She had completely lost it. The pressure of the past month had finally brought her to her melting point. She exploded. She took it out on the men and women who were doing their best to find her son.

Restlessly she moved on the hard wood bench. At least she hadn’t come unhinged on Garrett. Her relationship with him was shaky enough it didn’t need that on top of it. She could see the hurt in his eyes each time she left him. She couldn’t just stay at home and wait. She had to be doing something. Why couldn’t he understand that? She shook her head as an image of Garrett entered her mind. His grief filled eyes flashed before her and knew he didn’t understand. She knew he needed her to there by his side holding his hand.
She buried her face in her hands as reality set in. Garrett’s accusation finally sank in. She was obsessed. Everyone could see it but her. Which explained why the police refused her help. Why Jeff refused her help. He had even gone so far as to fire her. Was she really willing to give up her marriage to hunt Kara down? Had it really come to that?

Shaking she stood from the bench no longer interested in stopping any detective or officer to ply them with questions regarding her son’s case. She just wanted to get home. She needed to hold her husband if he still wanted her too. She didn’t want to become what she was hunting. She wasn’t Kara.

What she was was a young woman with an even younger husband. She was a young mother whose son had been kidnapped. She was scared but she didn’t have to go through this alone.

***

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Verity walked into the house momentarily shocked to see the empty corner where Trober’s crib used to be. The bare space stabbed at her heart. She had insisted they take it down. She hadn’t wanted to be reminded of her failure. Hadn’t wanted to be reminded that Kara still had him.

Now it sank into her awareness everything Garrett had tried to explain to her. Removing the crib indicated they had given up. That they didn’t expect their son to be coming home. Shaking she moved to that spot on the floor. Sinking to her knees crying “I want my baby.”

She felt strong arms envelop her. She didn’t need to see who it was to know his scent, the strength of his arms, the beat of his heart. Garrett was lending her the strength she lacked. It took strength to admit you needed help. Strength to admit you were hurt.

All the things she had rejected thinking she could do it all on her own. She gulped for air as her body convulsed with sobs. She released her obsession go and leaned into Garrett’s embrace. “I can’t…” she cried “can’t do it any more.”

“What can’t you do?” Garrett’s soft comforting voice asked as his lips lightly peppered her face with kisses.

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“Be alone,” she wailed “all my life since my parents died I’ve relied on myself. I had the solutions. The answers.” She gripped Garrett’s shirt with her fingers “I’m sorry.”

“You were only doing what you thought was right,” Garrett said his free of recriminations and accusation

“No no I should have been with you,” she clung to him as if she were afraid he’d disappear. “I didn’t need to go after Kara on my own. My baby is gone. I don’t belong out in the field. I belong here with you.”

“It alright baby,” Garrett caressed her face between his hands “you are now.”

“I shouldn’t have made you take down Trober’s crib” she gulped crying harder “I hated the reminder of my failure.”

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“I know baby I know,” Garrett assured her “it’s ok we’ll get through this together.”

“Garrett?”

“Yeah”

“I love you” Verity said with a deep sigh leaning into him.

“I love you too” he tilted her chin up to softly kiss her trembling lips “Trober will come home.” He said it with gentle firm conviction.

***

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“Come here you little brat” Kara demanded her nose burning from the stench from the mammoth pile of soiled filthy diapers strewn around the room It had taken about a day for her to realize babies weren’t her thing. She detested changing diapers. Couldn’t be bothered to feed the pooping machine either. It all required too much work. Too much effort. She couldn’t remember the last time she had giving the boy something to eat. A day or two maybe longer. She had left a box goldfish crackers and a bottle of water in the room. He seemed to have figured out how to get into them so he couldn’t be starving.

“Don’t make me come in there after you” Kara stood by the door scowling at the filth around her. She never dreamed a child could be so awful. She stomped her foot becoming impatient at the toddler who hadn’t moved from his corner. “It’s time to say goodbye,” she clapped her hands with glee at the prospect of being free of this little nuisance.

It was as if he didn’t hear her. Kara frowned her brows furrowing deeper as she realized if she wanted the child she was going to have to go in after him. Carefully she threaded her way through the piles She bent to pick up the boy.

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He squealed in terror as she lifted him in the air. She kept him at arm’s length afraid he’d soil her clothes if she held him any closer. The diaper he was wearing was sagging, over flowing with things she’d rather not see or touch. Disgust transfigured her face. The ugly red rash covering his sensitive skin elicited not an ounce of sympathy inside Kara for the child. The fact that he was lighter than he was when she first brought him here was of no concern to her.

She carried him from the room singing “good night sweetheart good night” to him. She had a slight smile on her face as she thought about what she was doing. It felt so right. She dropped the boy on the kitchen floor not caring whether he stained the tile or not. She went outside to retrieve the trash can. The bottom was crusted with dirt, mud and old leaves. She didn’t care. She wasn’t staying around after this. One thing she had learned was when the plan worked and you no longer liked what you got it was time to take the trash out. Removing the lid she picked up the listless child who hadn’t moved from the spot she had put him in.

She didn’t ever care this wasn’t the actions of a healthy, happy toddler. She was beyond caring She dropped the boy unceremoniously inside the trash can replacing the lid over him. She smiled. The trash was taken care of. One less thing to worry about she thought.

***

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It was getting late. Ian rubbed his dry itchy eyes. Glancing at the time on he dash. Six o’clock. He should head back to the office. He glanced at his list of addresses. He had just this one more address to check out in this area. It was less than ten miles away. He nibbled on his bottom lip knowing he had promised to meet up with Celia for supper. Just the two of them. Something they had missed from the two years it had just been the two of them It had greatly improved their relationship.

He picked up his phone from the side pocket in the door. A place he kept it while driving It was in handy reach while driving. “Celia” his voice sounded like a question.

“Who else would it be?” her voice traveled down to him sounding like she was smiling. Good he thought. It had been a good day for her. He had that going for him at least.

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“Babe I’m running late,” he let his voice convey the apology he felt “I have one more house to check in the area then this section will done.”

“Do it hon” she told him “maybe this will be the one.”

He smiled at his reflection in the rear view mirror. She sounded so hopeful. If only it were that easy he thought. “I love you babe,” he said putting his phone away this time inside his pocket not wanting to forget it when he went to check on the house.

Ten minutes later he drove up to a dark farm house with a tall wall around it. It gave him the chills just looking at it. Slowly he got out of the car. He couldn’t see any lights on inside. He swallowed feeling something wasn’t quite right. Acting on instinct he sent a quick text to Jeff with the address of the house he was checking on. Better safe then sorry he thought as he started towards the house. He didn’t hear it until it was too late. A slight rustling sound from the bushes. A pain in the back of his head as something hard collided with it. Then nothing.

***

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“Ian are you alright?” a familiar deep voice asked.

Moaning Ian opened his eyes focusing on Jeff’s concerned face. “Ow” he groaned lifting a hand to his head wincing “what happened?”

“Someone hit you on the head” Jeff explained “one guess who that might be.”

“I don’t need any guesses” Ian said feeling lucky he was waking up at all. Jeff gave him a hand up. He wobbled for a moment before nodding towards the house. “It’s probably too late but let’s see if she left anything behind.”

They entered the deserted house. Turning on the lights they found themselves inside a shabbily furnished room. The air was stale and smelled of dirty diapers. They opened a door off of the living room to a horrific sight of piles of dirty soiled diapers. They forced themselves to search the room.

Eyes watering they backed from the room “he’s not here” Ian gasped chest heaving “I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.”

Jeff silently put a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. There were no words of condolence or encouragement he could say that would make this situation any better. Pointing towards the stairs he said “I’ll check up there if you check the kitchen.”

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Nodding Ian knew Jeff was trying to complete the search before he broke down. Stumbling towards the kitchen he tripped over something that sounded like metal. Flipping the switch he flooded the room with light.

Grimly he found the outside garbage can had been what he had walked into. He picked up the lid that had come dislodged he glanced inside. Gasping he dropped the lid with a loud clatter. A little red-haired boy with blue eyes stared up at him. “Trober?” Ian cried feeling his chest tighten.

“The little boy whimpered lip quivering “mommy daddy.”

Lifting the little boy from the trash Ian cradled his grandson to his chest despite the reeking soggy diaper. “I’m your grandpa” Ian told him “you’re safe now.”

A few moments later Jeff came running into the room “I didn’t find anything….” He came a complete stop upon seeing Ian holding Trober in his arms

Ian lifted watery eyes to him “do you think you can find a clean diaper somewhere in that cess pool?”

Nodding Jeff went to look. Returning with a brand new diaper bag. “At least it has everything you need to change him ” Jeff said watching Ian lay Trober carefully on the counter to change his diaper.

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He put a restraining hand on Ian’s shoulder. “I better video this” nodding Ian waited for Jeff to pull his phone out to document how they found Trober.

The toddler screamed as Ian attempted to clean the raw sore areas that was a result of being forced to wear a dirty diaper. Ian did the best he could to soothe the boy snuggling him when he was done.

“You’re frowning,” Jeff noted “what’s wrong?”

“He feels so light compared to other two-year olds” Ian said.

“It doesn’t surprise me. When Kara realized how much work babies are to take care of she probably stopped trying” Jeff said “she probably didn’t feed him like she didn’t change his diapers.”

“I could strangle her,” Ian hissed rocking the boy in his arms feeling Trober sag in his arms as he started to fall asleep “he needs a doctor as soon as we get him out of here.”

“I’ve already called the local police,” Jeff informed him “it won’t be long now.”

 Chapter 18 – The Return / Chapter 20 – Welcome Home!

Garrett – Chapter 18 – The Return

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Kara waited a few more minutes before stopping her newly acquired vehicle. She walked over the sleeping body guards frowning in distaste. Uncle Jeff really should do a better job of selecting guards to protect people she thought unkindly. Her lips quirked up as another thought came to her that she was just that good. Good enough to outsmart her highly intelligent Uncle. She really liked that thought. She was the cat to his mouse. If she only had more time she’d toy with him a little more.

She walked to the crib where the object of her obsession slept. “It’s time to go home with mama,” she cooed at the sleeping toddler. She cradled him in her arms wrapping the tatty blanket around him “I’ll get you a new one my precious.”

She looked around the small house wishing she could light it on fire. Rid herself of the half brother she hated and the red-haired demon in the room beyond. With a sigh she shook her had dismissing the urge. She wanted them to suffer knowing she had their son. She wanted them to always wonder if he were alive.

Laughing softly she jostled the small child in her arms. Trober cried out in his sleep alerting Kara that the sleeping agent was wearing off. She had to leave now. With a final glance around the room she nodded in satisfaction. She turned swiftly her pocket catching on the chair. A single crap of paper fluttered unnoticed through the air landing halfway under the nearby TV stand.

Glancing around scanning the area Kara nodded relieved that nothing appeared out of place. Without anymore hang ups she left the house. Opening her trunk she deposited the baby within it’s dark depths. Slamming the trunk shut she was confident no stray jogger would be able to see the toddler she just kidnapped.

***

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Verity rubbed her eyes. Her head pounding, groggy and weighing a ton. A moan from the floor had her stumbling to her feet. On wobbly legs she staggered to where Garrett was sprawled on the floor by the door.

His breathing was labored as he gasped for air. With excruciating effort she managed to turn him over. His lips were blue tinged as he gasped fighting for air. “Garrett,” she mumbled as her mouth failed to form his name correctly. Even to her own ears she sounded drunk.

Coughing Garrett shifted on the floor waking up, gasping “air. Need air.”

Pulling him to his feet she half dragged him to the door, through the living room and out the front door. Leaning against the porch railing he breathed deeply as if he had been starving for oxygen. Her own head began to clear feeling less muddle and fuzzy. What was wrong with them? Gas? Carbon monoxide? Trober? She raced back inside the house. Running to the crib she screamed.

Hearing her shriek Garrett ran back inside the house. Stopping stunned staring at the empty crib “Trober” he whispered taking a step forward. “Where’s our son?” he yelled as panic set in.

Both of them looked up as the guards stumbled into the room blurry eyes and half awake. “Is everything alright in here?” they asked.

“Does it look like we’re alright?” Garrett shouted “our son is gone.”

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The guards glanced at each other. One of them pulled out a phone to report the missing toddler. When they were finished the guards urged them all outside. Verity jerked free of Garrett’s arms demanding “where the hell were you?”

The guards shook their heads looking at each other. One of them mumbled “there must have been something in our coffee.”

“You’re telling me you were asleep,” she spat beyond caring the guards were subjected to the same sleeping agent she and Garrett had been.

“Sorry Ma’am” they mumbled unable to meet her hostile gaze.

Several police cars arrived to secure the scene and to ask endless questions. An ambulance was called when Garrett continued to have trouble breathing. Verity followed Garrett towards the ambulance torn between staring and overseeing the investigation or going to the hospital. In the end she had no choice. The paramedics insisted she go in for testing until they knew what had been pumped into their air inside the house. She sat in beside Garrett as the ambulance made it’s way to the hospital.

She wanted to hold his hand. She was more afraid then she had ever been in her life. Afraid that when he woke Garrett would blame her. She was the one who was supposed to be protecting them and she had failed.

Her husband was unable to breathe almost as if whatever they had inhaled was keeping his lungs from taking in air. Their son was who know where with who knows who. No she did know with who. Kara. That crazy woman. She wanted her brother dead. To raise their child as her own. How had she let this happen? She thought she had been doing everything right. Still Kara was able to penetrate their home. Hurt the two most important people in her life. If it was the last thing she did Verity was going to hunt Kara down and make her pay for what she has done.

***

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Once the police had done their cursory walk through finding the canister of gas in the air ducts of the small house they dispersed to the hospital to question the stricken parents. Jeff stood in the middle of the room imagining the steps Kara had taken as she entered the house.

He glanced down noting the indentation on the floor where the chair had set until it had been bumped. Of course it could have been moved by any of the dozen police officers that had been in and out of the house. It could also have been bumped by Kara in the process of taking Trober from the home.

Stooping his mind racing with possibilities. Grunting he found the torn scrap of paper under the TV stand. He moved to retrieve it. Studying the torn slip of paper he found what appeared to be a partial address on it. He wondered what or who he might find if he was able to find the address. It was his only lead he had to find Kara before she could irrevocably damage his great nephew.

“Sir” a detective spoke beside his elbow “the police want to lock up. Are you finished?”

Nodding Jeff followed the man outside. He debate whether or not he should share his find with the investigator in charge of the case. If he did that he wouldn’t be able to search it himself. He’d lose his chance of finding Kara himself and he wanted that more than anything. His decision made he stuck the torn paper into is pocket and walked to his car.

Entering his office he sat at his desk drumming his fingers on the table top listening to the steady drum beat his fingers were making. Sighing he pulled up his search engine. Entered the partial address. He began his search in Aurora Skies before widening his search to surrounding areas. Ending his search with the nearest cities in all directions from Aurora Skies. It was just a gut feeling he had that insisted she was within easy driving distance for the things Kara had been able to accomplish. He surmised Kara wouldn’t risk driving around with Trober in easy view of anyone out and about early in the morning. Which meant she had stuck Trober in the trunk. The thought made his blood boil to think of that baby alone, in the dark inside the trunk. It also gave him hope that she was nearby because the air in the trunk would last only so long.

***

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Jeff looked up distracted as his office door opened and a couple walked in. Frowning Jeff stood up “what are you doing here?” he demanded.

“My son is in danger” the man said his voice flat vibrating with repressed anger. “you can’t expect me to sit on a beach somewhere like nothing is happening do you?”

“I told you I was handling it” Jeff protested.

“We’ve been by the house,” Ian stated.

“There are police everywhere,” Celia said putting a restraining arm around her husband who appeared to be on the verge of exploding “what happened?”

Running a hand through his purple hair Jeff sighed “Kara got past our security ….”

“She what?” Ian yelled “you promised you’d keep my kids safe. I knew I should have come back sooner. I listened to you. Believed you.”

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“You were her obsession,” Jeff snapped “how was I supposed to know she’d switch that obsession to Trober?”

“I was dead. Where else was she supposed to direct it towards?” Ian paced the small room”I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this hair brained scheme.”

“I shouldn’t have kept in contact with you. Than you wouldn’t have known about any of this” Jeff shoved his fists into his pockets “I thought it would keep her stable. Less volatile. I underestimated her obsessive nature.” He turned away blinking back tears “I’m sorry.”

Ian stared at his cousin. He wanted to be angry. Wanted someone to blame. In the end he was as much to blame as Jeff was. He agreed to go into protective custody. He had hope that it would keep Katrina and Garrett safe. It hadn’t worked. It was a colossal mistake.”Jeff I’m sorry. I know it’s not your fault” Ian cried “I just…” he shrugged “I’m worried. Scared.”

“So am I,” Jeff admitted “I’m worried what she might do with Trober. Kara hates Verity that rivals her obsession with you.”

“She blames Verity for pushing her into killing Ian,” Celia suggested.

“That’s what I surmise” Jeff nodded “it’s makes sense. It might explain why she fixated on Trober.”

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Ian sat down in a nearby chair “what can we do to help?”

Jeff looked at the couple weariness in his eyes before he slowly nodded “alright we do this together.” He walked around his desk “I found something the police missed. I think it might lead us to where Kara might have Trober.”

Ian got up and followed him around to his desk “you didn’t give it to the investigator?”

Shaking his head Jeff said “I want this to end once and for all.”

“Agreed,” Ian nodded his eyes hardening “just tell me what to do.”

“Its a partial address,” Jeff explained “we need to check out each of these addresses.”

“There’s a lot of them” Ian said feeling somewhat daunted at the massive list.

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“You take half and I’ll take half,” Jeff suggested.

“What about Verity and Garrett?” Celia asked “surely they want to help look for their son.”

“Garrett had a bad reaction to the gas. He’s in the hospital. Verity is better off there than joining the search for Trober,” Jeff explained.

Ian reached for Celia’s hand “why don’t you head over to the hospital?”

“I want to help find our grandson” she protested “the more people looking the sooner we’ll find him.” She looked from one to the other “please let me help.”

“You’d be of more help at the hospital,” Jeff told her “keep Verity occupied. Keep her at the hospital.”

She sagged into Ian as she released all the pent up air “ok” she nodded agreeing to keep Verity distracted.

***

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Kara got out of the car. Stood looking at the empty rolling hills all around her. She detested the country. The fewer people who knew her the better. Less chance of anyone seeing Trober and recognizing him. She could hide out here, keep him hidden behind the large walls surrounding the old farm house. In a few years move to the city where no one noticed a new face in the crowd.

Coming to her senses she retrieved the boy from the trunk. Carrying the child inside the house she all but dropped him on the floor. “Stop that racket” she demanded as the toddler began to howl.

“Want mama” Trober whined “Daddy want daddy.”

“I’m your mama now and daddy’s never coming back,” she said cruelly to the screaming child.

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Lip quivering Trober hugged his blanket to his face curling up on the floor in the corner.

“Mama. Daddy” he cried softly to himself sucking his thumb.

Frowning Kara yanked the blanket from is hands “give that to me.”

He held on to it best he could. With a firm tug Kara ripped the fabric from his hands. “Mine mine” he screamed to no avail as he watched helplessly as Kara shoved his blanket into a trash can. “Mine” he repeated holding the tiny scrap of material he grasped in his tiny fists. Turning his face to the wall he rubbed the material across his cheeks muttering “mine.”

***

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Verity was alone in the waiting room jumping each time the ER door opened and a doctor walked. Each time she expected one of them to walk up to her to inform her how Garrett was. She swiped at her eyes as her thoughts turned inward. Why had she relaxed her vigilance? Why hadn’t she done her nightly checks? Why had she trusted the guards with the safety of her family?

She leaned over covering her face with her hands. This was all her fault. Her son was with a psychopath. Her husband was in the hospital unable to breathe. She looked up gasping at the light gentle touch on her shoulder “Celia” she cried.

The older woman nodded sitting down beside her daughter-in-law. She pulled the young woman close “how’s my son?”

“I don’t…” Verity gulped pushing away from Celia “how? You’re supposed to be dead….at least we…I” she stuttered unable to complete her sentences.

“Protective custody” Celia told her “it was the only way to keep Ian safe from Kara. We hoped without him around her obsession would stop.”

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“Instead it transferred to us. To Trober,” Verity nodded “Garrett will be so happy to see you again.”

“If he isn’t too angry at us,” Celia sighed “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

“You didn’t make Kara the way she is,” Verity told her feeling a kinship with the woman over their shared guilt.

“Thank you dear,” Celia gave her a small tight lipped smile “you’re not to blame either.”

“I caused Kara’s obsession with us. If hadn’t been obsessed with the idea of capturing her. If I had just told Jeff what I was up to. Where I was going. Ian and you might not have had to go into protective custody.” Verity sat up looking around the small waiting room “where is Ian? I assumed he was with you.” She glanced at Celia grabbing her hand “please don’t tell me he actually is dead. That he wasn’t with you all this time.”

“Yes he was with me,” Celia assured her “he isn’t dead. It was touch and go at the beginning. It was my decision to go into protective custody when Jeff suggested it. I wanted to keep my husband safe. I hoped it would keep my children safe.”

“He didn’t come with you?” Verity asked.

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“He’s with Jeff,” Celia said looking towards the ER door hoping a doctor would come out who could tell them something about Garrett’s condition.

Jumping to her feet Verity headed towards the door “they’re looking for Trober aren’t they? I should be out there looking with them.”

Grabbing her arm Celia turned the young woman to face her “no your place is here with Garrett. He needs you.”

Struggling against the firm grip Celia had on her arm Verity cried “you’re here now. You can stay with him.” She tried to yank her arm free “let me go. I need to find my son.”

“Excuse me Mrs. Bennett ” a subdued deep voice said behind them “I’m Doctor Kasprzak.”

“How’s my husband?” Verity asked almost falling forward when Celia relaxed her grip on her arm.

“He’s breathing on his own,” the doctor smiled confidently at her “he had an allergic reaction to the gas which caused his lungs to collapse.”

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“But he’s alright now?” Verity asked not fully grasping what the doctor was telling her. Allergic reaction. Lungs collapsing. It all sounded horrific.

“He will be,” the doctor assured her “as long as he doesn’t come into contact with the gas again.”

“Can he come home?” Verity asked.

“I want to keep him overnight for observation to make sure all the gas is out of his system.” The doctor gave her an encouraging grin “you should be able to take him tomorrow. I’ll give him a prescription for an inhaler in case he has any respiratory distress in the weeks to come.”

“Will he always require an inhaler?” Verity inquired wondering how that will effect his job.

“It’s possible but unlikely,” the doctor informed her “would you like to see him now? He’s been asking for you.”

Nodding she allowed the man to escort her to Garrett’s room.

***

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Verity walked through the door the Doctor held open for her. She lingered by the door unsure what to do. Garrett lay with his eyes closed, dark circles around his eyes. He looked so frail. So weak. She moved forward her feet shuffling on the floor.

Garrett’s eyelids flickered “hey” he said his voice low, weak but glad to see her.

“Hey yourself,” she replied back coming to stand beside his bed.

He reached a hand out to her “sorry” he mumbled

Taking his hand in hers she smiled down at him “sorry for what?”

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“For not being able to stop Kara,” he murmured. His eyes closed for a moment “for not protecting our son.”

“Shh” she kissed his forehead “you did the best you could. It’s not your fault.”

“I tried” he squeezed his eyes shut “knew something was wrong…”

“It’s alright baby,” Verity soothed sitting on the edge of his bed.

“Trober,” his eyes filled with tears.

“We’ll find him,” she said confidently “don’t worry about that. Just close your eyes and rest.” She ran her fingers through his hair “everything is going to be alright.”

Chapter 17 – Narrow Escape  / Chapter 19 – The Lost Is Found

Garrett – Chapter 14 – It’s Over

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The incessant beeping of the alarm roused Jeff from his uneasy slumber. Frowning at the time he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The beeping continued despite his repeated attempts to turn the damn thing off. Yawning he realized part of the problem was it wasn’t his alarm clock. Shuffling to the computer he pulled up the GPS system he had installed in all of his detectives cars.

He hardly ever used the tracking system as it made him feel like a spy but Verity had been worrying him lately. Always reticent she was even more so lately. He had a feeling she was doing some work on the side. Knowing her it was more research into the secret of life of Kara. Studying the GPS route she had taken that night it was obvious she had been following someone. What had awoken him was the proximity sensor indicating the car she had been driving was being hidden.

Of course it could mean Verity herself was responsible for that but his gut was telling him there was more to it than that. Kara was dangerous and Verity was playing with fire following her on her own without backup. Grabbing his clothes he threw them on as he transferred her route to his GPS system in his car. Before he left he glared at the time, it was much too early for this.

***

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Ignoring what Kara was doing Verity went to check on Ian. He lay so still. She was afraid to find out. Taking a deep breath she pressed her fingers to his neck searching for a pulse. “No” she cried rolling him from the bed to the hard solid surface of the floor. “You can’t be gone,” she muttered starting chest compressions “you can’t die. Not now.” She kept count in her head.

Her old CPR instructor’s voice boomed loud in her head telling her what to do. Her harsh words making it impossible for Verity to give up. She refused to believe this was the way it was going to end.

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“I haven’t lost yet,” she panted between compressions “I won’t let you give up.”

Her arms felt like jelly. She lost track of how long she had been doing CPR. Her hands slip off his chest from the sweat pouring from her body.

“Fight damn you. Fight,” she cried as her arms fell to her sides sobbing. This couldn’t be happening. She’d never be able to look at Garrett again knowing how she had failed. She felt sick. Crawling a few feet away before her heaving stomach forced her to empty it’s contents on the floor. Leaning back feeling weak, exhausted. The faint scent of smoke wasn’t strong enough to generate alarm in her brain. Stunned she couldn’t think, couldn’t feel. All she was was numb.

***

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Jeff followed the GPS indicated route Verity had taken earlier. His fingers drummed against the steering wheel. Every minute that ticked past was one less he had to avert disaster. Fifteen minutes later he slowed down to make a right hand turn when a flashy little sports car came barreling out at him. Slamming on his brakes he swerved just in time to avoid colliding with it. He had half a mind to chase after it. Calming a little he vetoed that fleeting thought. Every minute he spent following that driver would have been one less he had to help Verity.

He was right on top of Verity’s car according to the tracking device but he couldn’t see it. Stopping he got out of the car to have a look around. A slight breeze moved through the trees. Sniffing there was an unmistakable scent of smoke in the air. Looking down the driveway he could see a glow in the sky. Fire. He ran to the car, stomping on the gas, unconcerned with making an unannounced approach. Whoever had tried to run into him no doubt was the same person who started the fire.

Taking precious seconds he called the fire department. He raced inside the building calling out Verity’s name hoping she would hear him.

***

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Verity lifted her head. She must be imagining things. She sat up wiping her eyes on her sleeves listening to the silence of the house. There was a roaring sound, a distinct scent of smoke in the air. Panic drove her to the door. Pulling on the door knob she tried to open it.

All the time she had been preoccupied with Ian her adversary had been setting the place on fire. Slamming her shoulder into the door she tied to break it open. “Help,” she screamed coughing as smoke filled her lungs “help” she cried coughing harder.

As smoke filled the room she grabbed the blanket from the bed and stuffed it under the door. She couldn’t believe this was how it was all going to end. She had been so stupid. She should have told Jeff where she was going, what she was doing. At the very least she should have called for backup. She reached for the shattered phone. It had fallen out when she was struggling with Kara. There were so many things she wished she had done differently.

***

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Jeff pulled his t-shirt up around his nose and mouth in a vain attempt to keep from breathing in smoke. Eyes watering so profusely he could barely see he heard a faint cry for help. It sounded like it was coming from below him. The basement perhaps?

He made his way towards what he hoped was the basement door. Lungs tight from lack of oxygen he made his way down the rickety stairs. Whoever had started the fire had wanted it to be a slow burn. Soon it would be out of control fully engulfing the house. He searched the basement as quickly as possible he found one locked door. He gathered his strength and kicked at the door. It didn’t budge. Looking around he found an ax with a broken handle. It was all he had to break the lock with. He hacked at it oblivious of the slivers of wood flying into his eyes and face.

He couldn’t get a good swing at the lock due to the broken handle. He wound up hacking away at the door as much as hitting the lock. It was a slow process as he felt the heat from the fire breathing down his back. In the back of his mind he could hear Lisa pleading with him to stop, to run to safety.

He kept chipping away ignoring her pleas. He couldn’t stop. Wiping the sweat from his brow he closed his eyes begging her to forgive him if he didn’t make it home to her. He hoped she’d understand why he couldn’t stop. Why he had to keep going despite the odds. Several minutes later the lock finally fell to the floor with a clatter. Pushing against the door he was surprised at the resistance he received. As the door gave way to his persistence he found Verity on the floor coughing. “Can you walk?” he yelled over the roar of the fire.

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She looked up at him through red swollen eyes nodding in response to his question. “Get out” he ordered once she was on her feet. He moved to get Ian.

Verity grabbed his arm “he’s gone.” The sorrow in her voice stunned him.

“Go” he ordered again. Lifting Ian’s body across his shoulders he’d grieve later now he had to concentrate on getting out. As they staggered from the burning building the wail of fire engines filled the air.

Dropping to his knees he laid Ian carefully on the ground as paramedics took over. He pulled Verity away giving them room to work.

Crying she buried her face in his shoulder “I tried” she gulped between wracking sobs “he wasn’t breathing. Kara smothered him with a pillow.” Sobbing harder she felt Jeff put his arms around her “what am I going to do now? I can’t tell Garrett I failed!” Sniffing she clung to Jeff “I promised I’d bring him home.

***

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Jeff held onto Verity there wasn’t a trace of the confident girl she once was. He could feel his inner reserves slipping. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. How was he going to face his Uncle? It would devastate him. No matter how old your child was it was never easy to accept they were gone.

“At least you found him,” he muttered knowing the words meant nothing to her. He knew it would feel more like a slap in the face. A reminder of her failure. “At least now they’ll have closure.” He rubbed her heaving shoulders feeling his shirt becoming damp with her tears.

“I know those words are supposed to make me feel better,” she mumbled pulling away “but they don’t. I shouldn’t have come alone.” She stumbled several feet away “I should have called for backup.” Shivering she turned her back on him lost in thought.

Sighing Jeff didn’t try to contradict her. She had messed up. It was something she would have to live with. He moved up behind her putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.

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She jerked away from his touch “I’m going to find her. If it’s the last thing I do I’m going to make her pay for what she’s done.”

“You need to calm down,” he advised her “let the doctors check you over. Get some rest. You’ll feel better…”

“No I won’t,” she screamed “I’ll never feel better. Garrett will hate me once he knows what I’ve done. If I had done things better Ian would still be alive.” She shivered wrapping her arms around herself “it’s so cold” she complained coughing

“You’re in shock” Jeff told her trying to keep her attention “why don’t you come over here and sit down?”

“I don’t want to sit down,” she whined teeth chattering “why is it so cold?” she asked rubbing her arms. “Owe that hurt,” she cried turning as a paramedic gave her a sedative. Her eyes drooped as the man caught her before she fell to the ground.

***

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“Five more minutes,” she mumbled seeking the comfort of sleep. Moaning she felt the serenity of sleep slipping further and further away. Her eyes blinked opened than slammed shut with a heavy thud. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t keep her eyes open.

“Come no baby open your eyes,” a voice encouraged her. A voice she knew but the sound of it made her wince. She didn’t want to remember. Didn’t want to see the pain in their eyes when they realized she was to blame for their grief.

“Sorry,” she murmured turning her face away as she opened her eyes.

“You have nothing to be sorry for” Garrett soothed brushing her hair from her face.

“My fault that he’s dead,” she moaned wishing she could tell him to go away. To spare her the pain of seeing his disdain.

“Whose death sweetheart?” he asked her concern deepening his tone.

“My fault…my fault,” she muttered closing her eyes letting sleep reclaim her.

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Sometime later several loud voices like the calling of seagulls along an empty beach disturbed her sleep She opened her eyes a crack to find an older man smiling down at her. “How are you this morning young lady?”

“Fine” she croaked eyes darting around the room at the strangers staring at her.

“Do you know where you are?” the man asked.

Licking her dry cracked lips she mumbled “hospital.”

“Good good” the man patted her shoulder “your lungs were burned from breathing super heated air. I’m happy to say you’re mending quite nicely.” He winked at her as a nurse lifted her arm to check her blood pressure.

The older woman smiled down at her “there’s a good looking young man waiting to see you. Shall I send him in?”

Cringing Verity wanted to say yes but the thought of seeing him made her sick to her stomach. She wasn’t ready to destroy his hope of seeing his father again.

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Garrett walked in lingering by the door hesitant to enter, watching for signs that Verity wanted him to leave. Taking here silence as acceptance he sat in the chair beside her bed “you’re looking better,” he smiled down at her.

“Thank you I guess,” looking away wishing things could be different “I’m sorry I…”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he assured her taking her hand.

“I promised I’d bring him home,” she cried wondering why he wasn’t more upset.

“Honey it’s not your fault,” he soothed kissing the palm of her hand “you brought him home. For that I’ll forever be grateful.”

Blinking back tears she let out a strangled sob “I can’t believe this. You should hate me.”

“Why would I do that?” he asked sounding confused.

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“I’m not giving up,” she told him with determination “I’m going to find her. She had to pay for what she did.”

“Uncle Jeff is taking care of it,” Garrett informed her “you don’t have to worry about anything but getting better.”

“I do,” she insisted “it was my fault that she got away.”

“You found me dad.”

“Not soon enough,” she mumbled turning away from him.

Sighing Garrett sat beside her in uneasy silence. What could he say to help her through this? Words never came easy to him. he was more a doer then an eloquent speaker. Careful of the IV in her hand he lifted it to his lips and tenderly kissed it.

***

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Garrett sat beside her until she fell into a fitful sleep. Sighing he got up leaned over her pressing his lips to her smooth forehead. He had spent to many days within these walls he thought as he made his way to the door. It was time for a change.

He had an idea to remedy that as he patted his jacket pocket. The comforting crinkle as the envelope beneath protested brought a smile to his lips. He couldn’t wait until she was released so he could whisk her away from this place. Starlight Shores no longer felt like home. He was ready to leave it behind.

His mind on thoughts of the future he opened the door into his mother’s room. He found her sitting up smiling “how is she?” she inquired.

Shrugging he threw himself into a chair “she’s blaming herself for what happened to dad.”

A shadow fell across Celia’s face”she did the best she could under the circumstances.”

“I know mom,” he sat forward chin resting in his hands “I’ve tried telling her that. She just isn’t listening.”

“Give her time,” Celia advised “it’s going to take time for all of us to heal.” He heard her well meaning words but that’s all they were….words. Meaningless words. A bunch of hot air formulated to offer comfort. He didn’t want to be comforted. He wanted his dad back.

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His head jerked up in alarm as multiple alarms went off at once. In horror he watched his mother convulse on the bed, eyes rolling back into her head. “Mom” he choked backing towards the door screaming “help. Someone help.”

Hospital staff ran past him pushing him from the room despite his efforts to stay. Blindly he backed into someone “Garrett” the deep concerned voice was familiar, safe.

“I’ve lost them,” he mumbled falling into his Uncles arms “lost them both.”

Jeff held the sobbing heartbroken boy keeping him from falling into a heap upon the floor. He felt the walls around his heart crumble as he relived his worst nightmare. He was once again that little boy watching his parents die. The pain was just as bad now as it was then. He remembered all the empty platitudes well meaning relatives told him. Uncle Gene had been different. The only only who just let him cry until he didn’t have anymore tears. The only one who sat and cried with him. It was strange standing in his Uncle’s shoes, needing to be strong all the while wishing he could crawl into a hole somewhere and cry.

Lisa had offered to come. He had refused. He didn’t want to give Kara anymore targets then she already had. If only he had been able to stop her before all this tragedy occurred. He hadn’t been able to pick up her trail after the fire. No doubt Kara had an escape plan already in place that enabled her to disappear.

He knew without a doubt that Kara wasn’t done yet. She would make another appearance deadlier than ever. Next time he vowed he’d be ready.

Chapter 13 – Should Have Known Better / Chapter 15 – Past and Future Collide

Garrett – Chapter 13 – Should Have Known Better

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Jeff watched the young blue skinned woman as she stared vacantly at the computer screen in front of her. “I take it you weren’t able to convince my nephew to leave.”

She lifted anger filled eyes from the screen she had been staring daggers at. “No he refuses to leave. I…” She took a deep breath “I don’t know what else to do.”

“I could talk to him,” Jeff volunteered. He saw the look of gratitude in the young woman’s eyes. She slowly nodded even though they both knew Jeff would have no more success than she had. Jeff would be advocating a course of action he knew he wouldn’t be able to do if he were in Garrett’s position. He’d want to be by his mother’s side. There would have been nothing anyone could do or say to convince him otherwise.

“If you would that would be great,” she sighed indicating her mind had already shifted to something else.

Hesitating at the door Jeff asked “are you still trying to map out Kara’s life?”

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Nodding “I have a feeling I’m missing something. If I can only find that missing piece I know we’d find Ian.” Her eyes went back to the computer screen, scrolling through the information she had gleaned so far.

“If you find something call me,” Jeff insisted his tone firm.

“I will don’t worry,” she mumbled without looking up.

“I mean it Verity,” Jeff said using the tone he reserved for his kids. The tone that said he meant business.

“I will,” she affirmed looking up at him “I promise.”

He held her gaze for a long silent moment before nodding, “see that you do.” He left with a feeling of unease settling over him like a cloak. He knew once she found something she’d be out there following the lead with or without backup. That was just the way she was. Who she was. For whatever reason she wanted to prove something when she didn’t have anything to prove at all.

***

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Verity heard the door click shut as Jeff left the office. She hoped he’d have more success in convincing Garrett to leave with his grandparents than she had. Sighing she resumed her research. Her eyes were dry as if they had been glued open for hours if not days.

Shaking her head she pushed herself away from the desk. She was going about this all wrong. It had been a week since she had the epiphany to find out everything she could about Kara. It wasn’t working. Kara had covered her tracks well. Staring out the window she wondered what she was missing.

Grabbing her keys from the desk she decided she needed to drive. Clear her head. Let the information she had gleaned free flow through her consciousness. Traffic slowed to a crawl in the downtown district of Starlight Shores. Why had she gone this way? It was rush hour and everyone and their neighbor was trying to get home. A sign caught her attention. Tugging at her sub conscious. As soon as she could she turned around, retracing her steps until she passed the sign again. Big Brother/Little Sister volunteers needed.

OMG that’s it she thought. The key that was missing. She was positive she had found the key to finding Kara. Turning the corner she went around the block again. Drove slowly down the road. Ignoring the honks from motorists anxious to get home. She needed the number on the billboard. As soon as it came into view she jotted the number down on her hand.

As soon as she could she pulled into a parking lot. She took a moment to write the number in her notebook. Afterwards she took her phone out, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel waiting for someone to answer. “Hello how may I direct your call?” a bored voice said in her ear.

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“Um yes can anyone sign up to become a big sister? Do you have some criteria you need to meet?” Verity asked.

“Anyone is welcome to sign up as long as they have the time to devote to the program,” the voice told her perking up a little. “Would you like to volunteer your time?”

“I’m not sure,” she hesitated “I’d like more information. My friend volunteers. She’s been trying to convince me that it’s a great opportunity to give back to the community.” She let her words hang in the air hoping the woman would enthuse about the work and mention their volunteers.

She wasn’t disappointed as the woman gave a glowing resume for Kara who seemed to be their most accomplished, caring volunteer. Too bad she came from such a dysfunctional family. Once the woman started talking it was difficult to shut her up. Eventually she wound down enough for Verity to assure her she’d be in later to sign up.

“Got ya,” Verity said aloud in triumph. She was going to set up a stake out and wait for Kara to arrive.

***

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Garrett sat beside his mother anxious to spot any sign of response. It had been a week since they found her emaciated body. Three days since she woke up. A day since everyone left for Sunlit Tides. Everyone but him. He couldn’t go. He wouldn’t go. How could he? His dad was still out there some where. His mom was in a near catatonic state.

Her eyes were open but it was like no one was home. She was unresponsive, staring blankly ahead. “Mom please you’ve got to eat,” Garrett pleaded holding a spoon to her mouth “please for me. One bite.”

He could feel the hot stinging tears building up behind his eyes. Every day was the same. Him pleading with her to eat. Her staring blankly at him. He wanted his mother back. The same vibrant woman who brightened the room whenever she walked in. Sure she had made mistakes but who hadn’t?

Tossing the spoon aside he slumped into his chair. If she wouldn’t try, why should he? Immediate guilt swelled inside him. He was being impatient he knew. He wanted at least one of his parents to survive unscathed. He couldn’t face the probability that his dad was gone. Didn’t want to believe Kara could destroy all their lives like this.

He jumped at the now familiar touch on his shoulder. “How is she?” Verity asked her voice low, soft, caring.

Waving a hand towards his mom “unresponsive as usual.”

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“It’s only been a few days,” Verity said trying to sound encouraging “don’t give up.”

Rubbing his eyes he let out a groan “easy for you to say. You don’t sit for hours hoping for any sign of improvement. I…I can’t take it anymore.”

Verity squeezed his shoulder before moving towards the bed where a middle-aged woman stared blankly at her. How would she feel if this was her mother? Verity lost her parents when she was young. She didn’t go through this agonizing wait. This pain of watching the person you love become someone you didn’t recognize anymore. Maybe she had been lucky to have her parents ripped from her life without warning. Watching Garrett go through this limbo of hope and despair was more than she could stand.

Picking up the discarded spoon she resumed cajoling the older woman into eating. She didn’t expect anything different from what had happened a hundred times before. “Garrett,” she gasped in surprise.

Looking startled he thought at first it was a dream. It couldn’t be real. “She’s doing it,” he said in shock “OMG she’s actually doing it.” He felt like crying, like running in circles and screaming all at the same time. It was the best thing he’d seen in a long time. His mother was eating. Opening her mouth, chewing and swallowing the whole kit and caboodle. Eating. She was eating.

***

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She closed her eyes leaning her head back. She doubted she’d ever forget the way Garrett’s face lit up with hope. It felt like a major victory seeing Celia take her first bite. Verity hoped she’d bring in a home run when Kara led her to Ian.

Yawning she took another swallow from the lukewarm espresso she’d been sipping for the last few hours. Glancing at the time she wondered if she should have told Jeff what she was doing. The lead she found had proved useful. Kara went there at least two or three times a week.

So far in the three weeks since Verity had been following her, Kara hadn’t led her anywhere useful. Tonight seemed to be more of the same. Verity was about to call it a night when Kara emerged from the club. It was going to be tricky following her without drawing attention to herself. She kept several car lengths behind. It was risky to follow so far behind but preferable to alerting Kara to her presence.

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When Kara drove slowly away from the city center towards the open rolling hills Verity knew this might be the break she was hoping for. She kept a keen eye on the red tail lights ahead of her hoping not to lose sight of them. She slowed down as Kara turned down a country road. Her eyes searched the darkness ahead of her desperate to find the glow of the tail lights she had been following. Nothing. Nothing but darkness.

She sighed in relief when she found the old mailbox hanging forlornly on its old post. She had turned down a driveway not a road. Somewhere along this long dark driveway was a house. This was what Verity had been hoping for. This could be where Kara had Ian hidden, held captive against his will. Searching the overgrown yard for a place to hide her car before she continued on to the house. She didn’t want to risk alerting her by driving down the driveway to the house.

***

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Ian lay listless on the lumpy mattress waiting for oblivion to take him. He didn’t know how much more he could withstand. He could no longer remember the last time Kara’s visits didn’t end with him blacking out in excruciating pain. Some days she didn’t even come meaning days where he had nothing to eat but the water he drank from the sink in his dungeon.

Whenever she did come she had a crazed look in her eyes. A mixture of regret, fear, guilt and hatred contorted her normally beautiful features. She no longer demanded he repeat his words of endearment to her. Instead she looked like she wished he were dead. No remnant of the little girl he once loved was left in the woman she had become. He spent many hours wondering what had snapped inside her to make her what she was.

He cringed listening to the floor boards above him creak announcing Kara’s return. He continued to lie there unable to hide lacking the energy to confront her. Lack of food and constant beatings had left him weak.

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The door banged open causing him to jerk in anticipation. He knew what was to follow. The pillow was yanked from beneath his head. “This is your fault” Kara snarled “I said I’d take care of you but you wouldn’t let me.”

She squeezed the pillow twisting it in her hands. Ian squinted up at her “I loved you like you were my daughter.” He reached a shaky hand up to wipe a stray tear from her cheek.

“Daddy,” she whispered her eyes softening for a moment. As if waking from a dream she shook her head, hair falling around her face, eyes growing cold, distant. “You should have let me take care of you,” she said as she pressed the pillow to his face.

***

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Verity drove her car off the driveway into a clump of trees well hidden from the casual eye. She glanced at the time wondering if she should give Jeff a call. He’d be asleep and it would take time before he’d be able to meet her here. Time Ian might not have. Making up her mind she got out of the car careful to keep the door from slamming shut.

It was a long driveway close to half a mile. If it weren’t for the moon it would have been to dark for her to find her way. It gave her an uneasy eerie feeling as she jumped at every sound expecting Kara to find her at any moment.

The house was dark as she approached it. There was a shimmer of light around a boarded up basement window. If it hadn’t been so dark she would have missed it and wasted precious time she didn’t have searching the house. She entered the house as quickly and quietly as she could not wanting to alert Kara of her presence.

Her heart sank as the floor boards creaked beneath her feet. “Shit,” she muttered giving up all pretense of making a silent entrance. She ran for the open basement door where a light showed the way. She had to move quick if she had any hope of catching Kara.

She rushed down the rickety stairs grabbing for the railing as her foot fell through one of the steps. Heart beating fast she wondered why Kara hadn’t come for her yet. Had she already gone through some unknown escape route? Was Ian alright? Was he here? All these questions and many others crowded her mind as she reached the half closed-door where a bright light shone through.

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Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes took in the situation. Kara was bending over someone on a bed. The face hidden beneath a pillow blocking off his air. The body struggled before going limp. “No” Verity screamed as she realized who it was.

Kara looked up as Verity came in. Smiling sweetly “you’re Garrett’s girlfriend aren’t you?”

“Step away from him” Verity demanded ignoring the question.

Looking down at Ian, Kara gently stroked his face. “I told him I’d take care of him.” She arranged his hands so that they crossed over his torso. Fluffing the pillow she carefully lifted his head to place it beneath him.

“Kara step away from him” Verity repeated taking several cautious steps closer. Her eyes scanning the room taking in the smashed wheel chair lying on its side. The heavy metal chain around Ian’s ankle. She tried to discern whether or not he was breathing.

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Slowly Verity inched her way to Ian’s side. She kept a wary eye on Kara as she reached for Ian’s wrist to check for a pulse. “Don’t tough him” Kara growled.

Verity looked up yanking her hand back. Kara’s eyes danced in her head showing more whites than normal. “Nobody touches my daddy,” Kara announced as she took several steps towards Verity causing her to retreat.

“Kara he needs help,” Verity tried to step around her. To reach Ian but found herself in a precarious situation with Kara twisting her arm behind her back.

“He’s mine,” she hissed “not yours poor little orphan girl.”

Using the karate moves she knew Verity was able to break Kara’s hold on her. Kara’s words hurting more than she cared to admit. She thought she was over the pain of losing her parents but the sharp knife like pain assured her she was wrong. Kara gave her a triumphant smirk letting her know that she hadn’t been the only one doing research.

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“Did you really think I didn’t know you were behind me the entire time?” Kara asked backing towards the door. Stopping in the door frame she gave Verity a challenging sneer “you should have called Uncle Jeff for backup. Now it’s too late.” Glancing at Ian a slight puzzled frown creasing her forehead “he really should have let me take care of him. I loved him so much.”

The past tense alarmed Verity as she ran for the door. She reached it in time to hear the lock click in place. Pounding on the door she screamed “Kara let us out. I’ll see that you get the help you need.”

“I don’t need your help,” Kara’s voice carried through the door. “You however do.” A pause ensued while Verity listened to a variety of sounds coming from the other side of the door. Ignoring it all Verity turned her back on the door and whatever Kara was doing.
Shaking she went to check on Ian who still lay motionless on the bed. Was he alive? Taking a deep breath she reached a hand out tentatively searching for a pulse.

 Chapter 12 – Take Care of You / Chapter 14 – It’s Over