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

Garrett – Chapter 12 -Take Care of You

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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“What’s you’re next move?” he asked.

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

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

“But I…”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garrett – Chapter 7 – You Have to Trust Someone

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Aimee remained silent during the ride home despite all the questions whirling around her head. She kept shooting looks at Gene while he drove. Catching her worried glance he smiled at her “it’ll be ok.” His confidence quelled her fear, stalling her desire to question the boy in the backseat. Gene had always known what to do. She had no reason to start doubting him now.

“Well,” she demanded once Gene came into their room after settling August in one of the guest rooms.

Shaking his head Gene sat on the edge of the bed. “He’s refusing to talk,”he told her.

Folding her arms she glared at her husband “I want him gone.”

“Aimee,” his voice held a mild reproof “please be patient. For me.” He got up moving towards her, his dark brown eyes still held the same vitality they had forty years ago.

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“Why?” she mumbled against his shoulder “he broke our granddaughter’s heart. Left her alone and pregnant.”

“I know,” he sighed “I don’t know why but I have a feeling he didn’t want to do any of that.”

Giving him an uncertain glare she asked “what makes you think that?”

“It’s just a feeling,” he kissed her forehead “give it time, please. I’m sure I can get the truth out him.”

“Alright I’ll try,” she put her arms around his waist “but I can’t promise for how long I’ll be able to keep quiet.”

***

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“Ian I’m worried about Katrina,” Celia said turning towards her husband giving up on the pretense of pretending to sleep.

“I know,” came the ready reply telling her that he wasn’t sleeping either. “I’ve been thinking a change of scenery might do her some good.”

“Are you thinking of sending her to Sunlit Tides to stay with your parents?”

Nodding Ian sat up “everything around here holds too many memories for her. I want her some place that isn’t full of memories of the things she no longer has. Maybe it’ll help her heal. To make new memories without August.”

His voice held such conviction Celia wondered if this was something he had felt when she had run away from him all those years ago. Where would she be if he hadn’t stuck around hoping she’d come back to him? “Ian…” her voice shook with a million emotions but whatever she was going to say was lost to the ringing of the phone.

***

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“Hello? Dad?” Ian stood “Is something wrong? Mom is she…”

“Calm down Ian. We’re fine. Your mom is fine.” Genes reassuring chuckle did more to calm Ian’s frayed nerves then his words.

Looking at the time Ian glanced out the window “why are you calling so late?”

A slight pause while Gene decided on the right thing to say “well son…we ran into someone today at the beach today.”

Ian’s anxiety shot right back up imagining Kara had shown up Sunlit Tides. “Dad I want you to hire a body-guard for you and mom.”

“Whatever for?” Gene asked his attempt to sound innocent only increased Ian’s anxiety.

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“Dad this is no laughing matter. If Kara’s there you and mom are in danger.” His voice rose as he paced the bedroom floor.

“Who said anything about that girl?” Gene asked his own voice rising.

Attempting to calm himself down. Ian took a deep breath “if it wasn’t her than who?” Something told him he wasn’t going to like the answer but he had to know. “August,” Ian stared blankly over at Celia as he asked “are you sure it was him?”

“What fool question is that? Of course I know it’s him. He’s in my spare bedroom,” Gene told him “the boy was rummaging through the garbage for food.”

“Is he alright?” concern for the boy who would have married his daughter coming through in his voice.

“He’s thin, dirty and weak other than that he’s fine,” Gene informed him “he’s asleep at the moment I hope. I needs a good nights sleep.”

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“What was he doing there? Why did he leave like he did?” Ian shot one question after another at his father.

“I’ll let you know when I find out.”

“What do you mean you’ll let me know?” Ian asked “hasn’t he told you anything?”

“He was in no condition to be interrogated,” Gene shot back “I want answers as much as you do. We have to be careful or he’ll run again.”

“Ok ok thanks for letting me know,” I an told him “tell mom I love her.”

“Will do,” Gene smiled into the phone “love you son.”

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“Love you to dad,” Turning to Celia Ian sat on the bed “they found August rummaging through garbage cans at the beach.”

“Oh no” she gasped “that poor boy…”

“Poor boy” Ian cried indignantly “he left our daughter without a word of explanation. Not to mention abandoning his daughter…”

Taking his hand Celia kissed his fingers “I know you’re upset but we don’t know why he left. He could have a good reason. What if Kara was behind it?” She looked into his worried violet eyes “she did threaten that he wouldn’t see his wedding.”

Putting his arms around her Ian pulled her close “I know. We’ll find out soon enough once dad has a chance to talk to him. in the mean tie we won’t mention this to Katrina.”

“Ok” Celia agreed hoping that they’d be able to give their little girl the happy ever after ending she deserved.

***

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August woke up late the following day. Blinking he jumped out of bed unsure for a moment where he was. It had been a long time since he slept so well or so soundly. Heart beating fast he recalled how he ran into Katrina’s grandparents at the beach. Hunger had drawn him out of his hovel earlier then normal that day.

He sat down on the bed looking for his clothes. They were no where in sight. He was sure he had left them piled in a corner near the door. After his shower the night before he hadn’t wanted to put on the same dirty clothes he had been wearing for who know’s how long. For once he wanted to enjoy the feeling of being truly clean. Grabbing the towel he had taken from the bathroom he walked towards the door. He reached for the door knob, heart pounding in his ears What was he going to do when they started asking him questions? What if Kara found out? He couldn’t live knowing he caused her any harm. But would Kara really know? It’s been over a year since she demanded he leave. Would she still exact retribution after so long?

Sighing he dropped his sweaty hand to his side. He didn’t know what to do. He owed them for what they did for him. Once he walked out that door he’d have to tell them something. They wouldn’t let him go with just a thank you.

Squaring his shoulders he made sure the towel was secure before opening the door. The living room was empty much to his relief. There was a love murmur of voices coming from the kitchen. He stood uncertain until Aimee came from the kitchen her smile fading as she called for her husband.

Gene came over to his wife nodding towards August saying “pancakes are in the kitchen, help yourself.”

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Clearing his throat August asked “mmmy clothes?”

“Those rags you were wearing are worthless,” Gene said “I threw them out.”

Panic engulfed him along with icy cold anxiety “I … you…” he spluttered.

“Don’t worry I made sure there wasn’t anything left in the pockets,” Gene gave him a reassuring smile as he passed going into the kitchen.

It felt good to be in a civilized house. Eating something other than stale, moldy, spoiled scraps harvested from garbage cans. He breathed a sigh of relief as he found he meager belongings. A few wadded up dollar bills and coins. Ignoring them he picked up the most important, valuable possession he had. A faded, worn and cracked picture of him and Katrina as they posed for their engagement pictures. He didn’t know what he’d do if ever lost that picture. It was his last hold on the best thing he ever had in his life and the reason why he was living like a homeless vagrant.

***

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He kept jumping every time he thought Gene was returning to the kitchen. He felt like a trapped animal facing sure death. As he finished the last of the pancakes he heard the front door open and close . Did they both leave? Were they leaving him alone in their house? Did they expect him to stay?

His worries ceased when Gene came into the Kitchen saying “Aimee went to get groceries and to buy you some new clothes to wear. Can’t have you running around the house in just a towel now can we?” He chuckled a little his eyes held a certain glimmer of humor in them putting August at ease.

“Thank you,” August murmured standing up intent on barricading himself in his room until he had some decent clothes to wear.

Patting the chair he just vacated Gene said “why don’t you come back here and have a seat. We have some things to discuss.” There was a sternness in his voice and a somberness in his eyes that had August hanging his head in compliance.

“I know what you want to know but I” he stopped swallowing convulsively “I can’t tell you.”

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“Then I’ll tell you what I know,” Gene told him not to be thwarted as the boy resumed his seat. “Kara threatened you and Katrina. That’s a fact. She told you that you would never see your wedding day.” Gene watched the boy closely. Saw how his eyes flickered then became clouded. Sighing Gene continued “Katrina’s brakes were tampered with. The police suspect you did it…”

“They what?” he cried standing up shocked “I’d never hurt her.”

“Oh” Gene gave him a long thoughtful stare “what do you call leaving him alone in the hospital? Don’t you think that hurt her?”

“I was trying to….” he snapped his mouth shut afraid he’d already said too much.

“Trying to what?” Gene pushed “come on son I’m trying to help you. They only way I can do that is if you trust me.”

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“I do trust you” August cried “I don’t trust her.” He ran his hands through his too long hair pulling on it.

Smiling Gene knew it wouldn’t be long before the boy broke. “Who? Katrina?”

“No not her,” he mumbled “I’d trust her with my life.” He sank back into the chair head hanging low.

Grimly Gene pressed on “as I recall you spent a lot of time on your phone before you left the hospital that day.” August lifted his head staring blankly at him “I believe it was Kara. What did she tell you to do? Did she threaten Katrina’s life if you didn’t agree to leave?” He left the questions hang in the air.

Slowly August nodded his head, his shoulder’s slumping. “She said the next accident would be more successful. That Katrina wouldn’t walk away from it.” Looking up with tears in his eyes “what else could I do? I couldn’t put her in danger. I knew by leaving she’d hate me. There was nothing else I could do.”

***

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“Hello mother,” the cold disdainful voice startled Celia as she released the melon she was inspecting for ripeness. It cascaded into the others causing a melon avalanche crashing to the floor.

Whipping around eyes round with fright and hate Celia faced her second born daughter. Heart pounding in her chest she demanded “why are you doing this to us?”

“Because I can,” she crossed her arms an unrecognizable gleam in her light blue eyes. “You have what I want most in the world. As long as your here with him I’ll continue hurting everyone you love.” She took a step nearer leaning in close “one by one they’ll disappear until it’s just you and him. Then I’ll get rid of you. Make him watch so he knows for sure that you will never be coming back.”

“You’re out of your mind,” Celia pushed her away “he’s your dad…”

“No John is” Kara smirked “but I took care of that.”

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“Ian raised you like one of his own,” Celia tried to reach the girl “he’ll always love you as his daughter. Can’t you see that you don’t have to be jealous of the rest of us?”

“All I see are obstacles that need to be disposed of” Kara snapped reaching her hands out fingers curling as if she wanted to strangle her mother. “If you leave now of your own volition it’ll save me a lot of trouble.”

“Is that what you told August to do?” Celia asked before caution warned her to keep quiet.

“He told you?” Kara asked pure spite dripping from her words “he shouldn’t have done that. Now I’ll have to make good on my promise.”

“No please it was just a guess,” Celia pleaded “he left. He didn’t tell us anything.”

Rage sparked in her eyes and Kara glared at the older woman “It doesn’t matter. She has to pay the price.” She turned and walked swiftly away.

***

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Shaking Celia stumbled after her. Leaving her cart full of food abandoned and forgotten. By the time she managed to follow Kara into the parking lot she was nowhere to be seen. Stumbling to the car Celia managed to call Ian “I made a terrible mistake.”

Ian felt the phone tremble again his ear as he listened to Celia’s hysterical sobs. “Honey calm….”

“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down,” she screamed “not when that maniac is after our daughter.”

“What are you talking about?” Ian asked feeling like he was falling down the rabbit hole again.

“Katrina” she screamed “she’s in danger.” She sobbed losing control “Kara said she had to pay the price. Oh god it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

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Heart constricting Ian ran up the stairs towards Katrina’s room. She looked up startled as he burst through the door “dad what’s wrong?”

“You have to leave now,” he told her.

“What’s happening?” she asked watching as he pulled out clothes from the closet and piled them onto her bed.

“You’re mother just received another threat against your life….”

“She what?” she cried covering her ears as her daughter picked up on the anxiety in the room and began to cry.

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“Kara made threats against you” Ian told her calming enough to pull her close “I have to keep you safe and the only way I know how to do that is to send you away. You’re going to stay with your grandparents in Sunlit Tides.”

“Why? Why is she doing this?” she demanded.

“I don’t know sweet pea. I just don’t know.” He kissed her forehead “pack what you need and buy the rest when you get there. I’ll call your grandparents and let them know your coming.”

Nodding “if you think it’s necessary,” she sighed moving to pick up Sara from her crib.

“I’m not taking any chances when it comes to Kara,” Ian told her as he moved to the door to make the arrangements.

Chapter 6 – Aftermath / Chapter 8 – Disaster Strikes

Garrett – Chapter 6 – Aftermath

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Ian shivered as he watched his son plunge into the depths of the pool. He felt Celia wrap her hands around his arm and lean into him. She of all people understood his fear. An occupational hazard before Garrett was born. During the days while he was still a fireman. It was a warehouse fire raging out of control. An explosion sent several men flying. He landed in an elevator shaft that was filling with water rapidly. His heavy gear was dragging him under. He still remembered the desperation he felt as his face was dragged under the water as his boots filled with water making it impossible to surface. He had barely enough air in his lungs to rid himself of his water-logged boots and heavy fireproof coat. He could still recall how his lungs burned and how he had to fight the urge to breathe in lungful of water. When he had shred the last remnants of his gear and kicked himself to the surface he could have wept with relief as he gulped in air.

Visibly shaking his head Ian eyed the pool holding his breath until Garrett’s head broke the surface. He released his pent-up breath turning to Celia “I never realized until this moment what my dad went through each time I went out on call. He must have worried the entire time I was out.”

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“I know” she kissed his cheek “he didn’t want his fears holding you back from what you wanted to do.”

Nodding Ian watched the score board proud of his son. “Which is why I’ve never told Garrett about my fear of water. I don’t want that to dampen his enjoyment.”

“You do know that it’s more than a sport to him,” she asked turning worried eyes upon him.

Nodding “he told me he signed up for the junior search and rescue squad for the summer,” Ian acknowledged dreading the thought that one day his son would be called out to rescue some hapless person caught out on the ocean in the middle of a storm or hurricane.

Celia smiled wanting to encourage him “he’s only sixteen. He won’t be sent out on any dangerous rescues yet. Probably be assigned life guard duty at the pool.”

“I know. It’s the future that worries me,” Ian said trying to smile “our son know’s what he wants to do. He’ll be out there risking his life sooner than we like.”

***

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Katrina lay curled into a ball facing the wall. It had been a year since the accident. A year since August walked out of her life without a word or a note as to why he left. Tears trickled down her nose as she recalled the hollow feeling she had as she walked into the house she had shared with August. Everything was exactly the way she had left it that far away day. His clothes were still in the closet and the dresser. His wallet was still on the nightstand. Why had he left without taking anything; especially his wallet? She kept expecting him to come back. To throw open the door and pick her up his strong arms and kiss her the way that would leave her breathless.

Wiping a her eyes she glanced at the calendar. They should have been planning their first anniversary celebration. Instead she was mourning him. Where was he? Why had he left? She bit down on her hand to keep from crying out. The last thing she was to alert her parents that she was crying again. They meant well but their worried concerned faces only made her feel worse. At those times she regretted selling her house and moving back home. Most of the time she was grateful they were here for her. She couldn’t have lived in that house where August and her had planned to remodel it so they could raise the family they planned on having.

It was all a pointless pipe dream. She wasn’t married. She didn’t know where he was. Being surrounded by people who loved each other only emphasized what she was missing. Nothing could assuage the pain she felt. The emptiness she felt each night without him by her side. Nights were the worst part of the day. The time she let the tears flow.

The tiny cry from the nearby crib had her dragging herself to her feet. “It’s alright. Mama’s here” she cooed to the small four-month old baby. A daily reminder of the void August left in her life.

***

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Garrett was standing at attention while the captain instructed them on the best procedure to handle multiple rescues at once. Garrett wondered if he’d be able to make the decision that might potentially cost someone their life. Would he be able to choose one person over another to rescue? While he meditated on that questions the door opened and a cadet with pink hair walked in followed by several others.

Garrett’s eyes followed the pink haired cadet barely suppressing the groan of dismay he felt building within him as he recognized his arch nemesis from school. Chris had graduated a couple of years ago and Garrett had wondered what happened to him. Now he guessed he had his answer. Chris had joined the coast guard. Garrett’s dismay grew even more as he realized that Chris was among the cadets chosen to mentor them in their training.

“Bennett” the pink haired male’s gruff unfriendly voice called him. Garrett nodded not trusting his voice to not give away his apprehension. Of all the luck his coach would be the one he most wanted to avoid. Silently he debated on the pros and cons of requesting a reassignment but ultimately he dropped the idea realizing if he pursued this as his career he would have to work with Chris eventually. He would have to trust the guy to have his back. He may as well start now.

Once the class was done Garrett gathered his things from his locker. He cringed when he heard Chris all his name. Slowly he turned to face the older boy “sir?” his voice a question wondering if he was about to treated to a resumption of abuse he had endured in school.

“Come with me” Chris commanded turning and leaving the locker room.

Cheeks flaming red as the others in his class laughed at him for being in trouble already. He ignored their comments best he could as he left the locker room. He found Chris waiting for him near the exit door. As soon as he approached Chris motioned for him to go through the door ahead of him. Sighing Garrett did as he was told. Once they were outside he expected some kind of physical altercation. He looked up and met the other boy’s eyes. He expected to find them cold full of disdain instead he found worry and a hint of fear in them.

“Bennett…I mean Garrett,” he swallowed breathing hard “I wanted to apologize for my actions in the past. I hope that we can put it in the past so that we can work together.”

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Garrett stared at the hand Chris extended out to him. Looking up Garrett noted the look of uncertainty upon the other’s face. There was a look of sincerity in his eyes that had never been there before. Garrett knew that Chris was as much of a victim of Kara’s manipulations as he had been. It didn’t make up for the things Chris did in the past but it did help him not to view him as a hard-hearted monster. Garrett took the extended hand and shook it. “I’d like that.”

A genuine smile spread across the boys face full of relief. “I was afraid you’d still be holding a grudge against me. I wanted you to know that I wouldn’t be resuming anything with you. It’s all in the past and I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Garrett told him “it’s not your fault. You believed what Kara told you.”

Nodding Chris had a far away haunted look on his face as he thought about the past. “I should have known she was lying. You didn’t act anything like how she described you.” His hands curled into fist “I hate her. Thanks to her my family fell apart. My parents are in jail. Dad really believed she was a victim of abuse. The things she said your parents did to her…”

“I suppose your mom just went along with it because…”

“She wanted to revenge on your dad for jilting her or something,” Chris shrugged “it doesn’t make sense to me now. I thought she loved my dad but the way she talked about your dad you would have thought he was the love of her life. I hated you for that.” He glanced behind him as the door opened and several people walked past on their way to the parking lot. “Your dad was really nice to me after what happened. He helped me get accepted into the military school my dad attended. He even paid for it too otherwise I would never have been able to afford it.”

“It sounds like something my dad would do,” Garrett smiled “My dad did everything he could to help Kara. It breaks his heart that she’s doing all of this to us.”

“She really hates your family” Chris stopped thinking “you should take any threats she makes seriously. She’s dangerous.”

“We know and we do but she still finds a way around our best defenses.” Garrett thought of what happened to Katrina. Her accident could very well have been fatal. A small part of him wondered if she was responsible for August’s disappearance too.

***

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“Mom,” Katrina called out before the older woman could leave the room.

Turning Celia waited for her daughter to continue. Twenty-one years old and it seemed like yesterday Celia was a scared sixteen year old teen girl telling her boyfriend she was pregnant. Seventeen years old by the time Katrina was born. Celia couldn’t help but wonder how much of her daughters current problems were the result of the poor decisions she had made so long ago. If she hadn’t gotten scared, broke up with Ian and gotten involved with John. Kara would never have been born. None of the terrible things she had done to them would have happened. It took all Celia had in her to meet her daughter’s eyes.

“Mom” Katrina wrung her hands “will it ever get better?” She tried not to give into the desire to cry but as soon as the words came out she burst into tears “I’m sorry. You must be so tired of hearing me cry. I keep expecting things to change. To get better. It never does. I don’t know what to do.”

Celia moved and gathered her daughter into her arms. She wished Ian was there. He’d know what to do. What to say. She wasn’t good with dealing with emotions. Her first instinct had always been to run. When she was younger she had been able to put up a brave front and appear like things didn’t bother her. Inside she still wanted to run. Even now holding her daughter she wanted to run. She wouldn’t give in to that desire. She refused to abandon her daughter. She had done to much of that already.

“Why did he leave?” Katrina cried “why wasn’t I good enough for him to stay? I loved him so much and he just left. Left me with nothing but this void in my heart. I’m falling apart and I don’t know how to put myself together again.”

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“I know sweet pea, I know,” Celia soothed letting the girl ramble. She sensed that Katrina needed talk to get out all the pointless thoughts and emotions rolling around inside her head. Celia wished there was something more she could do. Something concrete like hunt down the boy her broke her daughter like no one else could. She wanted nothing more than to ask the boy why he left. Why he abandoned her and his unborn child. Celia knew as she condemned him she was guilty of doing something similar to Ian and Katrina in the past. Maybe this was retribution for her past mistakes. She started all of this madness. If only she had never met John none of this would be happening now. Everything was her fault. She squeezed Katrina tighter murmuring “I’m so so sorry.”

Sniffling Katrina looked up “for what?” she asked temporarily distracted from her own pain.

Celia looked into her daughter’s sad brown eyes. “I’m sorry that this happened to you. If I could go back in time and change things I would.”

“I know mom,” she looked over the crib where here baby slept peacefully unaware “I just don’t understand why he left. If I only had some answers. A reason why. I know this would all make sense. August loved me…I know he did.” She shrugged “then all the doubts seep in and I’m left wondering what I did wrong to make him want to leave. It’s a never-ending carousel.” She wiped her eyes moving towards the baby “it’s time I pull myself together. Accept I may never know why.” Picking up the baby she continued “I was given a gift. I need to put this behind me. Not for me but for her.”

Celia watched Katrina in stunned silence. Her daughter was so much stronger than she ever was. Even now Celia wouldn’t know what to do if Ian left her. “I’m so proud of you” she said causing Katrina to smile sadly at her.

***

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Aimee clutched Gene’s hand. Looking down at her hand where it clutched his he asked “is something wrong?” He sat up attentive to her needs “are you in pain? Do you need help?”

“Shush” she commended not bothering to hide her irritation. She raised her hand and pointed towards a figure of a young man rummaging through the trash cans. “Is that….”

Frowning Gene peered intently at the boy who had caught Aimee’s attention. There was something familiar about him “it can’t be…”

“I think it is” Aimee turned to look at her husband “my eyes may not be what they used to be but I’d recognize that boy anywhere.”

Nodding Gene stood up “I’m going to have a little chat with…”

Tugging on his hand Aimee turned a pleading look on him “don’t start a fight.”

“I won’t” he grumbled. He hated to admit it but his fighting days were over. Sixty-nine years old seventy looming on the horizon. He was old, obsolete. He never expected to live this long or have the kids he had. He had done the best he could. He hoped it was good enough.

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As he neared the young man rummaging through the garbage he could tell his clothes had seen better days. His normally short hair was long and straggly. He appeared to be thinner and he looked like he may be ill. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes he wouldn’t believe this was the same kid who had been engaged to his granddaughter. “August?”

The boy looked up frightened, ready to run. His mouth moved but no sound came out. He stared at Gene as if he were seeing a ghost.

“August” Gene repeated unsure if the boy could hear him or not.

“Mr Bennett” he stammered “where? How?” his eyes darted around fear etched on his face.

“Calm down” Gene commanded taking the boy’s arm and dragging him toward a bench.

“What are you doing here?”

“I” he licked his parched lips “I have to go,” he tried to stand up but stumbled and fell to his knees in the loose sand.

Moving quickly for a man of his age Gene helped the younger man up “are you alright?”

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Shaking August let the older man help him up. He leaned over holding his head in his hands he muttered “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine,” Gene appraised the boy in front of him “you feel warm.” He removed his hand from the boy’s forehead adding “I’m taking you home.”

“I’m fine” August repeated jerking away from Gene as he stooped to help him up “I don’t need your help.”

Gene glowered down at the boy “where do you live?” he asked as if the boy hadn’t even spoken.

August’s eyes shifted toward a make shift shelter “I don’t need your help” he mumbled.

“Son” Gene put a restraining hand on the boy’s shoulder “if that hovel is your home I can’t let you go. You need help whether you want it or not.” He looked up to see Aimee making her slow progress towards them “if your worried about seeing Katrina don’t worry she’s not here.”

A moan escaped August’s lips at the mention of her name “she must hate me.”

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“With reason. You owe her an explanation,” Gene squeezed the boy’s arm eliciting a hiss of pain “she loved you and you left her less than a month before you were to be married. Left her lying in a hospital bed alone and scared. She needed you and you left.”

“I know” he muttered “I had no choice.” He stared at the ground unable to meet Gene’s eyes.

Gene mused over what the boy said “what do you mean you had no choice?” A shrug of the shoulders was the only response he received.

“I knew it was him” Aimee said when she came along side them “why did you leave?” she demanded “that girl loved you.”

“Aimee” Gene interrupted her “he isn’t well.” Her expression clearly showed she didn’t care what condition August was in. “He’s coming home with us” he paused thinking “when he’s better he has a lot of questions to answer.” He gave the boy a pointed look that showed he meant what he said.

Lacking the energy or will to disagree August nodded acceptance. The year of living on the streets had taken a lot out of him. He had hoped coming all the way out to Sunlit Tides would be far enough away from the family he wanted to avoid but it seemed the Bennett’s were everywhere.

 Chapter 5 – Second Attempt / Chapter 7 – You Have to Trust Someone