Sunday, August 30, 2015

Chapter 20

Chapter Twenty


Detective Scheffield woke up with one thought in mind; getting that last DNA swab collected and seeing Paul Federici off on his drive to Raleigh to deliver the samples in person. That was the only way the testing could get done in time for the trial of Chris Devereaux; which was about to begin. This particular evidence was really the only piece that could possibly sway the jury enough to get a conviction. Without it, there was absolutely no hope. This last test had to tell them something or they were sunk.

The only person left on the detective’s list was Jesse Durant. He had been unsuccessful in tracking him down the day before; upset because this threw the testing off by one day; one very important day; as there were not many left before the trial started. He wasn’t sure if Jesse had been avoiding him intentionally or had simply been busy the previous day, but he intended to find him this morning. It was the first – and most pressing – task he needed to complete for the day. The entire case hinged on this evidence and he was not going to screw it up. This was also his chance to prove himself as a capable detective and he didn’t want to make any mistakes. He knew he was a good detective and he was going to prove it by somehow pulling the needle of truth out of the proverbial haystack.

He drank his coffee early, picked up Paul Federici, and headed directly over to Devereaux Downs; knowing this was almost definitely the place he would find the man for whom he was searching. Having done his homework, the detective knew Jesse’s basic work schedule. The man certainly was a creature of habit; he had discovered in his search. He left for work the same time every day, he ate lunch the same time every day, and he headed home to Grace the same time every day. He was dependable and consistent; not really bad qualities to find in a man, but everything is subjective and that consistency is not always a good character trait if used for the wrong purpose. It is all to what one decides to apply one’s particular gift and sometimes good qualities are used for bad purposes, thought the detective as he drove.

Pulling into the long, gravel driveway leading up to the tattered old farmhouse, he saw instantly that his decision to catch Jesse Durant before he left for work had been a good one; seeing his car parked beside Grace’s beat up, old Lincoln; a car that she was not willing to part with any time soon; it having been through mile after mile of her crazy life with her. For the most part, she was still having a bit of difficulty letting go of the past; having only recently begun receiving some of the answers to questions she had been asking most of her life. The aged vehicle, The Dream Machine, was simply a link to the past; a bridge she wasn’t quite sure if she should burn yet. It was not just a car. Not to Grace.

Detective Scheffield and Paul Federici, who had joined him to do the swab on Jesse and get directly on the road to Raleigh, pulled in quietly; the detective parking his unmarked police car directly behind Jesse’s; not in an attempt to block him from leaving, but, if he were watching, just to send the message that they weren’t leaving until they got that for which they had come. The detective walked up the steps to the front porch, Paul Federici right behind him, and knocked on the red door with its peeling paint unassumingly; both men waiting impatiently for someone to answer. Jesse himself was the one who came to see who was knocking on the door so early in the morning; smiling at the detective when he recognized who his guests were; yet the detective couldn’t help but notice the look his eyes possessed for only a micro-second before he feigned a smile – or so the detective believed – and the look was not one of pleasure. It was more a look of annoyance; the detective seeing an arrogant air about the man that he hadn’t noticed before. Still, Jesse invited the two men in without hesitation; even calling for Grace to come and say hello; to be polite and accommodating to their early morning visitors. He was more of the mind that he wanted her ring shown off a bit; making sure the detective knew that she was no longer on the market and he should steer clear of her. At least that is the feeling he got; the vibe that existed in the living room, where they had all collected – including Adrienne; who was still asleep on the sofa with Casey when the detective had knocked on the door; this of course waking the sleek, black dog from her slumber; the sweet dog simply wagging her nub of tail as fast as she could; excited to receive any visitors at all.

Jesse submitted to the test without argument; without question also, though the visit was an early one and not what he had expected on a weekday morning. After all, he was a planner; wanting to leave as little to chance as he possibly could; especially where Grace was concerned. To her his behavior seemed normal for the most part and any doubts she may have had about him subsided when she saw how readily he agreed to the DNA test. She had missed the initial exchange between the men, though; having not seen the look in her fiance’s eyes when he found Detective Scheffield knocking on the door before breakfast. It was possible he was simply a little insecure when it came to Grace and their new relationship. Perhaps he was just a man in love who wanted his feelings to finally be reciprocated, thought the detective; a man who didn’t want to lose in the game of love – again. One couldn’t blame him for that really, he mused; thinking that he would probably be acting the same way if he had been the one to propose to such a beautiful and decent woman. He would not want to lose Grace, either. He still wanted her desperately; unable to put his feelings aside as he should do in this instance. He still hoped for a chance. He couldn’t help it. He believed in the feelings he experienced when he almost kissed her; knowing it was more than lust for her that he possessed.

Detective Sheffield and Paul Federici kept the visit brief due to the early hour and their time crunch; Paul swabbing the inside of Jesse’s cheek and the two then politely excusing themselves; apologizing again for the unannounced visit. Both men had the same thing on their minds and that was to get those swabs to Raleigh as quickly as they could; both pondering what the results would tell them – if anything. It would be a huge disappointment to the detective for the results to come back the same as the results of the hair samples that had been tested earlier; which had told them nothing at all except that their suspect was not anyone whose hair was tested and that he or she definitely was not a career criminal because his – or her – DNA was nowhere to be found in the database. Then there was still the question of who he had missed the first time around as a suspect. He had thought about it until his head ached, but he had again come up empty; not being able to think of anyone else who had a reason to commit this crime. Genevieve and Adrienne had no real enemies as far as he could tell and nobody would have benefitted from their deaths but family. The fact that he had to resort to simply asking everyone anywhere close to Devereaux Downs for a sample of their DNA still bothered him immensely. He wasn’t a big fan of loose ends; preferring his ends tied tightly into knots so nothing and no one could escape.

Jesse and the two women in his life had a light breakfast of cereal and fruit; him heading off to work as soon as he was finished eating; giving Grace but a peck on the lips before he left. This kiss was nothing like the others she had received from her new fiancé and she took notice of this right away, but again quickly brushed to the side the idea that something was amiss in their budding relationship. Maybe the early morning visit from the detective and his cohort for this project had put him in a bad mood, though she couldn’t imagine why that would matter to him one way or the other. In fact, she mused, he should be glad to help in any way pertaining to the case against her uncle. Perhaps he was simply a bit nervous around her now; things having changed so drastically between them with her acceptance of the glittering diamond that now encircled her slender finger. She felt different somehow than she had twenty four hours ago when the relationship between her and her best friend was just blossoming into something different, something deeper than mere friendship. Marriage was another subject; one that she had no intentions of ever committing to two weeks ago when she left her other fiancé, Michael Stranahan. The fact that he was now deceased because he had been so obsessed with her still rattled her, as it would anyone, but she didn’t let anyone know; not even her cousin. She discerned that Adrienne had enough to worry about under the current circumstances; considering that her father now sat in the county jail accused of trying to execute her while she slept.

Grace wasn’t really sure how her cousin felt about this, either, because she wasn’t talking about it. As a matter of fact, she hadn’t mentioned it once. That bothered her a bit, but she let it go for the moment; not wanting to push her cousin too hard as she recovered from her wounds – physically and emotionally. Though Adrienne was acting strangely this morning, she thought; her simply staring with an odd expression on her face as the DNA sample was collected from Jesse; seeming to be anywhere but in that living room with the rest of them. To Grace, she almost looked as if she were trying to make sense of something in her mind; sort out all the thoughts she had been having about how she arrived at this juncture; lying on a sofa recuperating from a gunshot wound to the head. She wasn’t confiding anything in her cousin, either. Whatever thoughts she was having, she was keeping them to herself for the time being…and that simply wasn’t the behavior Grace was accustomed to seeing in her. Normally she was impossible to shut up and now – she only half-smiled at her cousin and pretended to follow a conversation, though she could tell there was something brewing in Adrienne’s mind and she desperately wanted to find out what that was.

The entire day was an odd one for Grace. She felt that she should be excited and wishing to show off the impressive diamond ring she had newly acquired, but she felt like doing anything but that. She had imagined her wedding day her whole life and wondered what man would be standing beside her as they exchanged vows at the altar of a beautiful church. Now she knew who she would marry and could plan whatever sort of wedding she wanted, but she wasn’t as enthusiastic as she had imagined she would be when the time finally came. If she were honest with herself, she would have to admit that she never truly loved Michael Stranahan; even before she was aware of his dark side. She was only trying to fit into the mold she thought should be her life; to settle down and make an honest woman of herself like she felt she was supposed to do to please her family, despite the fact that she had precious little family left to please. Jesse’s proposal had thrown her a little off balance; her not expecting it at all really; much less so soon after her new relationship with him had begun. None of it had had time to sink in yet, but when it did, she would find herself feeling different about the whole situation than she had imagined when he proposed. Vastly different.

Paul Federici was well on his way to Raleigh to deliver the DNA swabs in person. In fact, he should probably be arriving any time now, thought the detective as he looked at his watch; it being but a few hour’s drive by car. Detective Scheffield found himself pacing back and forth and circling his desk; his nerves a bit frazzled because he was almost out of time before the trial began and the results from the samples riding with Paul to Raleigh were needed as soon as possible. He practically considered taking off to the capital city with his best forensic technician so he could do whatever he could to speed up the process, but changed his mind at the last minute; wishing to take another look at the case file; just to make sure he hadn’t overlooked someone or something.

Part of his anxiety stemmed from the fact that he was positive this was not the trial that was going to put Chris Devereaux away for a long time, though he had been wrong before. He wondered what the holdup was with his superior, Brady Peterson, in charging the man with the murder of his sister, Vivienne Devereaux that took place ten years ago. The best thing that could happen, honestly, was for him to plead guilty to the crime instead of putting his poor daughter through the stress of having to come to court as a witness – an eye-witness – and sit across the room from him as she had to spill all of the horrid and difficult, to say and to hear, details of the crime. The detective wondered if they could get away with charging him with pre-meditated first degree murder or if they were going to have to take their chances with second degree murder as the official charge. The sentence he would receive for that was enough to put him away for most of his natural life, though a charge of second degree murder would leave him eligible for parole at some point. Honestly, with the overcrowding problem in the prison system, he would most likely do about one quarter of his sentence – if that. Oh well, thought the detective, if that was the best that could be done they would simply have to learn to live with whatever the end result would be for the extremely guilty man. His head finally came out of the clouds as he heard the telephone on his desk beep; letting him know that someone in the bullpen wished to speak with him. He picked up and, to his happy surprise, the voice on the other end of the line was that of Brady Peterson. He pressed the button to talk back; hoping he was calling about charging Chris Devereaux with his sister’s early demise.

“Brady, how are you? What’s up?” he said into the ancient intercom; a feature that should have been updated years ago, but one that the department had no funding to improve; this problem or any others, either.

“Hey, Matt. I’m good. How about you?” he asked in return.

“Frustrated with the current case a little, boss.” Detective Scheffield answered honestly. “Paul Federici is well on his way to Raleigh with the new DNA samples. I think that may be the only way to convince the jury that Devereaux is guilty. Hell, maybe he did do it. It feels like we’re missing someone or something on this one though, Brady. I just can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there.”

“The bastard killed his sister, though. That much we do know for sure – unless his daughter is lying, which I doubt.” replied Brady. “I did some research on Chris Devereaux and he hasn’t exactly been a boy scout. There have been numerous complaints about his behavior over the years; him engaging in some bar fights and property battles - things of that nature. Oddly, nothing ever came of any charges he acquired, though. Each time he was arrested, he was bailed out the next morning – if not released the same night on his own recognizance – and no court date was ever set for him. The only way things could have occurred the way they apparently did was for him to have friends in higher places than he was – which unfortunately we’ll never know unless he spills it…and I don’t see that kind of cooperation coming from that man.” he explained to his top homicide detective.

“Well, what do you want me to do about the murder charge for his sister?” he inquired of Brady.

“Go ahead and charge him. I thought maybe we should wait until he walked out of the courthouse a free man - exonerated of killing his mother and attempting to kill his daughter - and nab him as he started to walk away with a smile; thinking he got us. I can see the look on his face now. That’s the picture that keeps popping into my head.” he told the detective. “But I don’t want to wait that long. I know he’s unable to bail himself out this time and frankly, I don’t want to give that wicked man a chance to hurt anyone else, especially his daughter if he had some kind of plan to finish what he started. I don’t want him to get out of jail at all. Not for anything but his trial. I want him to rot in his cell through the end of this trial, thinking he may get out, and then burst the shit out of his bubble. Though I have to say that unjustified high opinion he seemed to have of himself appears to be waning fast.” Brady rattled off; barely taking a breath between sentences, but chuckling a bit as he spoke the last one.

“You got it, Boss.” replied Detective Scheffield; trying to contain his pleasure about his assignment, though he wasn’t sure why he felt the need to do so. “I’m on it. Going over to the jail right now.”

“Okay. Let me know how it goes.” his boss requested of him.

“Will do.” he responded.

Having finally received the order for which he had been waiting, he wasted no time in walking over to the jail and having one of the guards escort Chris Devereaux to an interrogation room. The detective thought the man would have to realize that the visit for which he was being dragged into another tiny, windowless, and stark room could not possibly be a pleasant one. Chris was fairly certain he was not receiving a visit from a family member and he had no friends of whom to speak. The detective decided to have him handcuffed to the bar along the edge of the metal table and let him stew in the room alone for several minutes before he entered to inform him that he had no hopes of ever walking out of there a free man. Perhaps his ferocity about sealing Chris’s fate had more to do with the fact that the detective was falling in love with his niece, Grace, and wanted retribution – all within legal limits – for what the cruel and heartless man had taken from her. Now he was about to exact that revenge and it made him feel much satisfaction.

After letting Chris sit for fifteen minutes, wondering who he was going to see walk through that door, Detective Scheffield opened the door and strolled in casually; a knowing smile spreading across his handsome face. He wanted to start off by making his suspect feel at ease so it would hit him that much harder when he delivered the news and read him his rights once more. This was certainly out of character for him; having always been a fair and decent person – one who never enjoyed watching someone else suffer. This time it was different, however. This time it was personal and he had to concentrate intently not to allow his emotions to cloud his typically rational judgement, though it took every ounce of restraint he could muster to continue this tradition where Chris Devereaux was concerned.

He walked calmly over to the table and plopped down on the metal stool across from the prisoner and asked with a satisfied smirk on his face, “Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Devereaux?”

“How the hell would I know?” he muttered sarcastically.

“Well, I’ll get right down to it then.” began Detective Scheffield calmly; ignoring the nasty answer he had just received altogether, “Christopher Devereaux, you’re under arrest for the homicide of your sister, Vivienne Devereaux. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?” he rattled off as he had a hundred times before, though this time it brought him great satisfaction.

“Oh God.” Chris said quietly as he bowed his head and covered his face with his hands; realizing now that his niece, Grace, had been telling the truth during the last and only visit that he would receive from her. Her threats had not been empty ones.This quelled any hope he may have had that she had only been trying to scare him. At this point, there was nothing more he could do about the situation. He was not getting out of jail – except to go to his funeral, he mused. His fate had been decided. He was well aware that his daughter had seen the entire, deplorable crime that he had committed against her aunt and had probably been convinced that he was the one who had tried to kill her, too. And there was not a thing he could do about trying to convince her that wasn’t true.

“Anything you’d like to say before being returned to your luxurious accommodations?” inquired the detective; unable to control the delight he felt about putting this particular man away for plausibly longer than his natural life. Even if the man managed to live long enough to see the outside world again, he would be too old to do any more harm to anyone; except perhaps himself.

“Yeah. Fuck you.” he hissed through clenched teeth; his hopelessness momentarily replaced with anger toward Detective Scheffield for displaying pleasure during his curt speech.

“Okay then. Back to your cage, animal.” retorted the detective; doing his very best not to crack a smile right then.

The guard waiting outside the interrogation room was not unhappy about escorting him back to his cell, either, though he didn’t say a word, but merely smiled the entire time; a knowing smile. The corrections officer was one of the people in Aurora who detested Chris Devereaux as much as every single member of the jury for his trial did…and he wasn’t afraid to let him know. He had told him to thank God that he wasn’t a juror because he would do whatever he had to do to ensure the man never saw the free world again. And he meant it. This guard was one of many who had been making his stay as uncomfortable as possible; going so far as to wait twenty four hours to bring him a roll of toilet paper. They were small inconveniences to a free person, but for Chris they were all things beyond his control; making them not so small to him. His entire life had been about control…and now he had none.

Grace had been at home with Adrienne the whole day and the two had barely spoken. Her cousin appeared to be healing physically at a rapid pace, but emotionally she didn’t seem like herself. If she were understandably upset about the fact that her own father was probably the person who tried to snuff out her short life, Grace was certain she would have been confiding in her regarding this. No, it was something other than that which was bothering her and she could feel it. She was only unsure what to do about it. This was one of the many times since her death that she wished desperately that she could speak with her grandmother; the one woman who had always seemed to have all the answers – no matter what the questions. Grace knew she could never in a million years compete with Genevieve and her endless knowledge about every subject imaginable. She was the one asking for advice – the same as Adrienne – and she hadn’t the slightest idea how to fill her Gram’s shoes and help her cousin. It simply wasn’t possible.

She left her cousin alone with her thoughts as she did her best to sort out their meanings; heading to the kitchen to see what she could scare up for dinner. Also on her mind was the fact that she had not received one phone call from her fiancé all day…and this was extremely out of character for Jesse, who normally checked in every two hours on the average. Grace was temporarily blinded by love, so she didn’t give one thought to analyzing this new dilemma. It was impossible for her to see the constant phone calls as a mechanism of control being exercised by him. Her normal attitude about such things was that the things one finds endearing in the beginning are the things that feel oppressive to one in the end. If she thought about it, she would have to admit that there were definite signs that their relationship was headed toward one in which there would be a controlling, insecure husband and a submissive, obedient wife; a relationship she had been through several times over already, minus the marriage, and had no desire of living through even once more. But she didn’t see it yet. Right now she was but a bliss filled woman in love…with the entirely wrong man for her.

Jesse arrived home late that night; the two women sitting in front of the television eating their dinner; having waited as long as their stomachs could bear. He hadn’t even called to say he would be late – and his fiancée was rightfully perturbed about that. He was displaying characteristics she had never known him to display in his entire life; treating her so very differently than he had before he proposed to her – differently than he ever had since she had known him; their meeting occurring before either was old enough to remember its happening. Perhaps these were some of the thoughts plaguing Adrienne and she didn’t want to be the one to break her cousin’s heart by telling her what she saw unfolding. That certainly made sense; more sense than the nothing Grace had been able to decipher.

One thing that she did notice after Jesse got his plate from the oven, where Grace had left it to keep it warm, and joined them in the living room, was that Adrienne stared at him as much as she could get away with and have the attention still go unnoticed – or so she thought; simply staring with a quizzical expression on her face. Her cousin did not yet know Adrienne’s feelings about Jesse’s recent treatment of her, so Grace imagined that could be the reason for her cousin’s blank stares at the only other person in the room with the two women. Her cousin had always been one to speak her mind, no matter who was displeased about it, so she couldn’t understand why Adrienne was holding back her opinions about Jesse or her advice to Grace…if that is what was swirling around in her mind.

Grace was also stumped as to why things between Jesse and her seemed to be changing so rapidly. Even she knew that he was the kind of person who stuck to a strict schedule whenever possible and his not adhering to his normal one tonight was a change she considered significant enough to bring up in conversation; of course doing this later, when they were alone in bed that night. She didn’t want any secrets between them and because of this she decided that she also had to tell him about the moment that had almost happened between Detective Scheffield and her. It wasn’t fair to ask him to open up to her and be honest if she weren’t willing to do the same herself, she reasoned. She wasn’t totally certain why she felt it was so important to let him know that another man had tried to kiss her; even though she had resisted his advance. It was simply something she felt she must do to start their relationship off on the right foot.

Needless to say, Jesse did not take the news of the kiss that almost happened very well; Grace feeling immediately the coldness that came with his stare as he listened to her relay the entire story; one that she desperately wished was a short story that wouldn’t go beyond the four walls in which it was expressed. After noticing even further change in her fiancé as she spoke, she wasn’t sure the whole thing was going to end there. In retrospect, perhaps telling him about the incident was not a good idea, she mused. The admission had not brought the two closer as she had hoped it would, but driven them even farther apart; adding brick after brick to the wall he had created around himself; not building it big enough for two, but sealing only himself off from the world around him.

It was the first night they had not made love before falling asleep and she didn’t like the implications of that, though it seemed there was little she could do about it. The harder she tried to accept her new role as his life partner, the more his demeanor changed – and she was not fond of the new behaviors Jesse was displaying. She had never considered him an insecure man and by all rights he should not have been one; the attention he received from women everywhere he went being enough to swell anyone’s head, however, appearing to have the reverse effect on him; turning him instead into a man who lacked the confidence to have a true and honest relationship with any woman because along with insecurity comes distrust, even though the dubiety was generally unwarranted.

Grace did the only thing she could do after Jesse turned his back to her in the bed and that was to push the thoughts out of her mind for the time being and go to sleep. It was not easy, but eventually she drifted off to dreamland; this night again receiving a visit from her grandmother, though she was too distracted even in her sleep to begin to understand what it was Genevieve was trying to tell her this time. She had no way of knowing that, at the same time she was dreaming of her Gram, Adrienne was fast asleep downstairs having a dream that was nearly identical to the one Grace was having upstairs; only her cousin was paying much more attention to the message contained in the dream than she was. In fact, it would end up being the warning that finally changed both of their lives…to the lives that they were meant to be living and the happiness that Genevieve knew they both deserved…not to mention closure where her death was concerned. And it would be the last time she would reveal herself to her granddaughters before crossing over to the other side for good.

The next morning, Jesse left for work before Grace even opened her eyes; this sending a small wave of panic through her when she finally did awaken; wondering if her honesty the night before had altered her relationship with her fiancé too much to return to the bliss that both had truly felt only days ago. She felt as if she were on auto-pilot the entire day; going about her daily routine with practically no thoughts at all; her brain’s way of protecting her from having to feel any more emotional pain, as she had already had more than her fair share of this. Adrienne was even more distant this day than she had been; again looking to her cousin like she was also making an attempt to sort out all of the thoughts plaguing her – and not appearing to be having any more luck than she had been having. Though she desperately wished Adrienne would confide in her about her thoughts and feelings, she didn’t want to push her too far too fast. What Grace had been through in the past two weeks paled in comparison to dealing with being shot in the head; having to know that someone out there wanted her dead…and that someone could have possibly been her own father.

It was an extremely quiet day at Devereaux Downs; as quiet a day as Detective Scheffield was having; biting his fingernails waiting for the results of the DNA tests. There was nothing more he could do at this point but wait. Grace and Adrienne barely spoke the entire day and the conversation didn’t improve much when Jesse finally made his appearance at dinner; again arriving late and again without making a phone call to say so. Nobody spoke that night at dinner at all really; just odd stares at Jesse from Adrienne just like the previous night’s meal. She didn’t even seem to care who noticed her gaze, either. Grace could see the wheels turning in her cousin’s mind, but was left to guess as to what the meaning was behind this odd behavior. Whatever it was she was debating about with herself, her cousin wished she would simply tell her; allow her to help if she could.

This didn’t happen, though, and everyone called it an early night; turning in before the clock struck 9:00pm. Jesse barely acknowledged that Grace was in the same bed as he; again turning his back to her so she couldn’t see that he, too, was wide awake and contemplating how to tear down the wall that he himself had built around him; his thoughts not much different from the thoughts his fiancé was having at the same time, though his resolution to the issue was markedly different than the ideas of his fiancée. Neither of them were aware of it, but Adrienne laid on the living room sofa as awake and alert as her cousin and Jesse were upstairs, though her ideations were somewhat different than Grace’s. The ruminations of Adrienne were not, however, so different from those of Jesse. She had a decision to make and it was one that had the potential to crush Grace if brought to light. Sadly, though, it seemed as if her mind was already made up about this. There was simply no way she could allow this information to fall through the cracks. The subject was too important to go left undisclosed.

The next morning, Detective Scheffield received the call he had been anxiously awaiting; Paul Federici letting him know that he was currently on his way back from Raleigh with the DNA results; the piece of evidence that would make or break the case against Chris Devereaux for the shooting of Genevieve and Adrienne Devereaux. The words he heard come out of Paul’s mouth were certainly not the ones he was expecting to hear. The killer was one of the suspects they had looked at carefully, though clearly not carefully enough or his actions would not have gone unnoticed for as long as they had. In fact, this particular suspect really made no attempt to hide anything he did before or after the shootings, though Detective Scheffield didn’t catch onto any of that. The information he received, however, was the last piece in an extremely tricky puzzle that finally made sense to him now. Knowing what he now knew, he understood how this criminal could have slipped through his fingers; how his judgement could have been so clouded. He now understood why he had been wrong about this one.  

Detective Scheffield’s description alone of the situation and the test results were enough to get a search warrant for the suspect’s home; a house he knew for certain was empty at this time. He expected to find some evidence of how or why the crime was committed, but what he and the other officers found was beyond anything he could have imagined. This crime was no spur of the moment idea, either. Apparently, this plan had been in the works for years and no one had ever been the wiser. After this new discovery – a treasure trove of damning evidence – the detective was finally able to make sense of it…all of it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chapter 19

Chapter Nineteen


Grace’s heart was pounding in her ears and an enormous lump had formed in her throat as she sat and listened intently to Jesse’s heartfelt proposal. Oddly, the face that had formed in her mind at that precise moment was not the wonderful man who now knelt before her with a ring in his hand, but that of Matt Scheffield; the man she had almost kissed earlier. She quickly pushed that picture as far back in her mind as she could; unable to forget it entirely. She had to give her new love a chance; see if it truly was meant to be that she marry her lifelong best friend. Stop thinking, she scolded herself silently. Something inside her wanted to believe that she had already made a decision – a definitive one – yet there still existed the miniscule part that wasn’t truly sure. Majority rules, she thought to herself.  

She looked directly into his hazel eyes and answered, “Yes. Yes, I’ll marry you.”

He slipped the beautiful diamond ring onto her delicate finger and leaned in to give her the sweetest kiss she had ever had; tears of happiness welling up in his eyes. For several minutes nobody spoke at all. They sat speechless; the three of them looking at each other in happy disbelief. Adrienne sat on the sofa wiping away the tears that had slid down her cheeks as she listened to the proposal and the answer – and Grace and Jesse just stared into each other’s eyes; seeing something that neither had ever seen before; an expression of hope for an attainable future. He could trust in the fact that he would not be losing her again as he had so many times in the past. Now the two would be bonded for life and that was all he had ever wanted to become a reality for him. Nothing else mattered now; not the murders, the upcoming trials, not Chris Devereaux and certainly not Caroline, not Matt Scheffield, and definitely not anything that stood in the way of their future…together.

The very newly engaged couple eventually – happily – retired for the evening; leaving Adrienne tucked in downstairs in the living room. Even she had forgotten about all the bad things momentarily; gave not a thought to who had really shot her or when she would be able to sleep in her own room again; her bedroom being a constant reminder of what had happened to her there despite the makeover her cousin had tried to give the room while she was still in the hospital. In reality, it wasn’t only her room with which she was having trouble – it was the entire house. Granted, she had absolutely no memory of being shot or seeing her grandmother shot and killed, but she didn’t need those memories to feel the emptiness she felt with her grandmother gone; gone from the house and gone from her life.

Genevieve’s spirit was far from being at rest, however. It had taken all the energy she could accroach to reveal herself to Grace in her dreams; showing herself in an attempt to warn her granddaughter that all was not well and she should be prudent. Grace had not deciphered the message in time to avoid being kidnapped by her old fiancé, though, so her Gram’s spirit felt like the revelation came too late and she had not done her job in protecting her granddaughter. Though neither of the women felt her at the time, Genevieve had still not departed. Her spirit was very much a part of everything happening in her old house and she had one more message to deliver before she felt she could move on; go to the other side and finally be at rest. This was not the time for her last message, though. Not yet. Her granddaughter would not be receptive to it right now and Genevieve’s spirit could feel that. She would just have to wait; floating around on the property that had in life belonged to her; waiting for the right time.

Detective Scheffield was waking up to another day of unrest as well. The part he played in the case against Chris Devereaux was far from over, as he still had one more scene to coordinate; making sure that it was executed correctly this time so there was no question about the outcome; for the police or in court. The prosecution was having a hard enough time putting together a foolproof case. Too many questions lingered for them to feel comfortable they could get a conviction against the man presently residing in the county jail under lock and key. They needed something to show the jury that said beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the shootings and the murder that was the result of his actions, but they still didn’t have it. He could actually walk out of jail a free man if someone didn’t find something in time. His peers for the most part disliked him from the start, but each of them knew this bias had to be put to the side for the duration of the trial. Being rude and anti-social doesn’t make someone a murderer. The facts were what had to decide his innocence or guilt and presently the prosecution didn’t have too many facts to throw out there. It was going to take more than fingerprints on a murder weapon to make this conviction happen.

The detective couldn’t help but think that doing any more work on the present case was a waste of time, however. As soon as the word came down from Brady Peterson, he would be charging Chris Devereaux with another murder; the murder of his sister. For this case they had a very powerful card to play and that was the eye-witness – the defendant’s own daughter – who intended to testify; relaying to that jury the whole, awful scene that she had watched unfold before her very eyes. It was difficult to ignore that or to misconstrue it. An eye-witness made it real for people; made it a fact instead of merely an assumption like the assumption that if a person’s fingerprints were found on a murder weapon then that person must be the killer. Nothing could make that a fact and facts were what was needed to put Chris Devereaux away for a very long time.

The only fact that could possibly be of use in the current case against him was the fact that the killer left behind a small part of himself – or herself – in the form of a human hair found on Genevieve. That was not an easy undertaking and the detective was going to have to call for reinforcements this time. This would come in the form of the best forensic technician he knew, Paul Federici. He was the one who had processed Grace’s car and done a thorough job, though no evidence of any use to the case was found. Though it was an incredibly large favor for him to ask, he got on the phone and laid out the whole story for Paul, who agreed to help without thinking twice about it. Paul would collect each and every DNA sample himself – of course with Detective Scheffield looking on to serve as a witness that the samples were collected properly. Then Paul was driving the samples to the lab in Raleigh himself; rather than send them by courier. They simply didn’t have the time to do that; the trial was nipping at their heels and everything needed to be done yesterday, so the detective and the tech were working together to make sure things happened fast; as fast as they could anyway. There was still going to be a wait for the DNA results, though the lab did agree to push it to the top of the ever-growing pile of samples that needed to be tested just as bad as the detective’s samples.

Paul Federici had agreed to help so readily because anyone could pull a few strands from a hairbrush and turn that in as a sample if one were left to his or her own devices. Detective Scheffiled had spoken with the officers he had doled the last collection job out to and more than one of them had to admit that they accepted the samples that were given to them without question. Not every officer had watched as hair was pulled from a brush or yanked directly from a head; rendering this evidence totally useless due to the possibility of contamination. Not this time, he thought to himself. This time he would watch Paul swab the inside of each suspect’s cheek so there was no chance of contaminating the evidence. Time was running out before the trial and this evidence was absolutely necessary if they had any hopes of obtaining a conviction.

Now all Detective Scheffield had to figure out was who he had missed as a suspect the first time around. It was possible the results would come back the same and no samples collected would match the hair pulled from the deceased, Genevieve’s, robe. They were lucky that there was enough genetic material in one hair to get a complete DNA profile in the first place; he wasn’t sure if they would be so lucky the second time. If not – if the results came back unchanged - that would send them right back to square one for a second time; only this time it would be too late. They would have to go to trial with what little they had; the defendant’s own registered gun that was covered in his prints. That was it and it was not enough. For the life of him, the detective couldn’t think of anything else that would help at all; this only making him more anxious about charging Chris with the murder of his sister, Vivienne. He wasn’t just anxious about doing it to help the state put him in prison; he felt an obligation to Grace to put an end to her torment so she could finally live her life not wondering; so she could have the future he knew she deserved – whether he was a part of it or not.

The detective continued to rack his brain about the suspect he thought for sure he had missed the first time. Who could it possibly be, he asked himself over and over. Perhaps it was time to sit down and review the entire case file and every little clue it contained to determine who else had either motive, means, or opportunity to commit the shootings. If he did all this and still came up empty, maybe it was time to consider the fact that this was merely a random shooting perpetrated by a random stranger and wasn’t personal at all. Any decent detective had to consider all the options; not take the most reasonable option and run with it because it made more sense than Genevieve’s death and Adrienne’s injuries being all for nothing more than fulfilling a delusional or psychotic fantasy about murder; judging from the fact that nothing was stolen from the house at all; much less anything of value.

Everyone wanted to believe that a good woman’s death at the very least served a purpose; even if it was an under-handed purpose like obtaining money or land. That made sense and things that could be explained and understood bothered people less than acts that came with no explanation; except for possibly that of insanity. It was easier to accept the loss of a life if something came of it – good or bad. A death that left more questions than answers was not quite so easy to swallow for the average person. Chris Devereaux shooting his mother and daughter to cover up his murdering his sister made sense to people. A stranger merely passing through town and trying to snuff out two lives on his way didn’t make sense to anyone. It certainly didn’t make sense to Detective Scheffield and he knew in his heart that is not what happened. The only problem was that Chris Devereaux being the shooter didn’t feel right to him, either. He had been overlooking something or someone the whole time and he vowed to figure out what or who that was.

The first person he called to obtain a DNA sample was Grace. He thought he should get the most difficult task out of the way first. She was the only one whose thoughts or opinions even mattered to him in this town and he realized that was a bias that would have to be put to the side as well…at least for now, he told himself. It was possible – though not probable – that Grace herself had committed the heinous crime. There was a small span of time when she could have gotten a ride back home and then back to town from the farm. She couldn’t prove where she was during that brief period and that was a fact; though not one that the detective had any intention of throwing out there. He still felt he should go with his gut; despite the slight rejection he had received the other day from her. He wasn’t going to let that change his mind about her being totally innocent of this crime; switching gears and heading in a different direction; the opposite direction of Grace.

“Good morning, detec…Matt.” Grace said in a cheerful voice; when the detective had finally mustered up the courage to dial her number.

“Good morning, Grace.” he began somewhat awkwardly, “I’m sorry to bother you so early.”

“It’s okay. What’s up?” she asked; hoping as she did so that it had nothing to do with the moment the two almost had the day before. It would be even more awkward than it was when it happened…because she just accepted a marriage proposal from Jesse Durant.

“I apologize that I have to ask this of you, but I need to collect a DNA swab from you. I know you submitted a hair sample before, but we ran into a little snag with those samples.” explained the detective; trying to give her a reasonable explanation without divulging facts of the case that had to be suppressed from everyone but the police and the prosecution right now.

“Oh…okay. No problem.” she replied; having nothing to hide and no reason to protest the collection of a second sample, though she was quite curious why it was necessary. “Do you want to come to the house or should I come to the police station? Actually the house would be better, if that’s all right. Adrienne is here. The doctor let me bring her home yesterday and I don’t want to leave her alone very long.”

“I didn’t know she was home.” he responded; the pleasant surprise evident in his voice. “That’s great. I’m so happy for the both of you.”

“Thanks. That means a lot.” Grace said honestly.

“Um…the house would be fine actually. I can be there in about an hour, if that suits you.” he offered.

“An hour would be fine. I’ll go get in the shower now.” she answered.

The two hung up and he was on to his next call, Jesse Durant. This one, however, did not go as smoothly as the call to his new fiancée had gone. For whatever reason, he had allowed the call from the detective to go directly to his voice mail; so all he could do was leave a message and wait for a return call. If that return call didn’t come within an allotted time frame, then he would have to go in search of him. At this point, the detective had no idea that Jesse had proposed to the very woman he had tried the day before to kiss…or that she had happily accepted his proposal. Unbeknownst to him, he was about to find out in an hour. The news, however, would not be received so well by him. He was genuinely happy for Grace and her cousin, but he simply could not bring himself to be happy for her about the upcoming nuptials. He would find it difficult even to feign happiness when put to the test. Though he wasn’t certain why yet, the thought of her marrying Jesse left a bad taste in his mouth…and it was much more than simple jealousy.

Precisely an hour later, he arrived at Devereaux Downs with the forensic tech, Paul Federici, to collect the DNA sample he needed from her. Before she opened the front door, he was under the assumption that the sample was all he would be leaving with, but he would in actuality be leaving with much more than that. Detective Scheffield knocked on the crimson door; waiting impatiently for her to answer his knock; desperately wishing for the strength to keep the visit professional. A minute later, the door swung open and there she was; the beautiful woman he simply could not get off his mind. She invited the two men in; leading them into the living room where her cousin still lay on the sofa; awake and flipping through the channels on the television.

“Adrienne. You look quite well.” the detective said truthfully. “How do you feel? Happy to be home?”

“I feel… good – surprisingly enough.” she answered with a smile. “Did Grace tell you her good news?” Adrienne inquired; unaware of the kiss the two had come very close to sharing the day before.

“No.” he replied; shaking his head and focusing his attention back on Grace. He was momentarily happy for her that she actually had good news to share instead of only bad. His happiness dissipated quickly, though, when he heard the news.

Grace extended her left arm toward the detective; showing him her hand which wore on its ring finger a stunning diamond ring; two carats if one had to guess would be fairly accurate. It was a bauble that was difficult to miss on her small, delicate hand. He couldn’t help but think that a ring like that didn’t suit her; something a bit less showy belonged on her tiny finger. She didn’t seem the type to care about status symbols and money, though now she looked a tad more like a woman who did care about such unimportant things. No explanation was really necessary at this point. She had mumbled something about Jesse Durant the day before when he had tried to kiss her, so it wasn’t hard for him to figure out the situation when she silently showed off her new ring, though she didn’t seem to him to be as happy as she should be about it, either; a feeling he could tell she was trying desperately to keep to herself.

“Congratulations.” he offered without complete sincerity; swallowing the lump in his throat that threatened to choke him. His heart sank when he saw that ring on her finger and he could only hope that it didn’t show on his face.

“Thank you, Matt.” Grace responded; finding it difficult not to notice the expression on his face change so drastically from one of duty to something a bit more personal. She was well aware that he had feelings for her and she found it hard not to second guess her decision to marry her best friend, though she pushed these thoughts as far down as she could…unable to rid herself of the thoughts altogether.

After this very awkward exchange, the two were both ready to do what the detective came there to do and move on with their respective days. Grace didn’t want to question this decision like she did with every decision she had ever made in her life; she wanted simply to feel; go with her heart for a change and leave her head out of it for the time being. Of course she loved Jesse, she thought. How could anyone not love someone who had been such a dedicated friend for so many years, she ruminated. In a strange way, she almost felt like she owed it to him to marry him after his catering to her needs even before his own for as long as she could remember. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in a loveless marriage out of obligation and she was now trying everything she could to convince herself that her marrying Jesse wouldn’t be like that, though she was finding this more and more difficult with each question that popped into her mind.

Adrienne noticed the difference in her cousin’s mood since the detective’s visit and sat her down when the two men left to find out what she was thinking and how she was feeling, though she was fairly certain she already knew the answers to her own questions. Her cousin’s opinion was very important to Grace and presently she was telling her to stop questioning everything she was thinking and do what her heart told her to do…what she felt was right at the moment Jesse had proposed; which was a very deep love that she did feel for her very best friend – the only person in her life who had never let her down – that told her at that moment to say yes to him. Adrienne told her cousin to marry Jesse and not look back. It didn’t take a genius to see that there was clearly something – some sort of feelings – between Grace and Detective Scheffield. She didn’t want her poor cousin to make another mistake where a man was concerned and she believed throwing her lifelong friend over for a man she barely knew would be a huge mistake. Grace agreed with every point her cousin brought up, but still secretly she wondered if she were doing the right thing by marrying Jesse Durant. Adrienne wondered exactly what had taken place while she was in the coma; thinking she had missed some interesting occurrences as she had slumbered.

Paul Federici had noticed the tension between Grace and the detective and he was not shy about bringing it up when the two men were in the car on the way to their next victim. He couldn’t chastise him for long, though, because the next person they were collecting a sample from was Herbert Mullins. Detective Scheffield was happy to park the car and get out to knock on the old man’s door. Though he was Grace’s grandfather, he had held back a little; especially when the kidnapping incident was in full swing. He was devastated when he heard the news, but felt he wasn’t a close enough family member yet to meddle in his granddaughter’s business. He wanted more than anything for this to change, however. He wanted to know Grace…and Adrienne because he knew if he wanted one in his life, he would have to take both; they came as a package deal right now. The old man wasn’t aware yet that there was to be a third person thrown into the equation soon, though that wouldn’t matter to him any more than having to deal with Adrienne mattered.

He offered a DNA sample to the detective and the tech; not protesting at all and allowing Paul to swab the inside of his cheek while he sat still. After collecting the specimen the two men were off to the next neighbor, and then the next. Detective Scheffield knew he was pushing the limits and that, technically, the people he intended to ask for a sample did not have to provide one if they didn’t want to do so. He actually had more luck in this arena than he thought he would have; all but three people readily allowing the tech to take a swab of their cheek cells; all of them knowing that they had nothing to hide. The detective never got the feeling that any of them had something relevant to hide, anyway, and he was pretty good at reading people…just like Grace; though neither one was aware the other possessed such a talent and they had something in common.

Grace was also unaware that the detective had tried to reach Jesse and had been unable to get him on the phone – and in several hours had not received a return call. This was unlike her new fiancé; all she knew of him to be a kind and decent person; one that did not tend to shirk responsibilities. He had readily agreed to give a hair sample for comparison with the hair found on Genevieve’s robe; so her thoughts would be that he was simply too busy at the moment to answer the detective’s call. She believed that if he had anything to hide, he wouldn’t be beginning a new life with her; making himself a permanent fixture in her life. But she didn’t know he had been unavailable; so she wasn’t thinking about anything pertaining to the trial of her uncle at this time. For once, she was trying very hard to pay more attention to what needed to change in her life; do what she believed would lead to the best future for her and everyone close to her.

Marrying Jesse would not interfere with her relationship with her cousin; she would still be attending to her as much as was necessary; regardless of the serious new relationship she was taking on. Three was never a crowd in her book anyway. The three had all played together as children; it just so happened that he gravitated more toward Grace when they all hit puberty. Actually, he had taken to her long before that; having secretly loved her his entire life; even when they were still too young to be considering such things. It had always been an unbreakable bond and Grace hoped that was just the beginning for Jesse and her; moving on to the next phase – opening doors that could never again be closed. Right now she wished to go through with marrying him – and she wanted to make it legal as soon as possible; partly so she had no chance to think about the possibility that she could be making the biggest mistake of her troubled life. She really didn’t want to think at all for a while; she only wanted to enjoy having her cousin recover completely and settle into her new life as soon as it could be arranged. With the two most important people well and in her life she felt complete and believed she had no need of asking for any more than that.

The rest of the afternoon was fairly uneventful for Grace and her recuperating cousin. The two pretended to watch a movie together to pass some time; as Adrienne was currently under house arrest; at least as far as her doctor was concerned. Of course, she wasn’t adhering to the imposed rules quite as strictly as the doctor would have hoped, but her cousin had been successful in keeping her in the house and on the sofa – for the most part. Grace had already started dinner for the three of them; her assumption being that her fiancé would be there for the meal…and all of the naughty things that would probably take place after that; after the three turned in for the night. Adrienne still couldn’t fathom being able to sleep in her bedroom; actually considering taking up permanent residence in the guest bedroom when she finally moved back upstairs to sleep – or possibly her grandmother’s room; as long as Grace didn’t wish to claim it for herself, which she doubted. There was plenty of time to sort all of that out, though. At the moment, she really only wished to get better…and watch her hair grow back where the surgeon who saved her life had shaved it off out of necessity; even though she had such thick, luxurious hair that nobody could even see the tiny bald patch without her purposely drawing attention to it.

Jesse arrived home as expected, but seemed to clam up a bit when Grace asked him how his day had gone. She simply shrugged it off; thinking more about not burning dinner; something she had a slight reputation of doing in the past. Apparently her cooking skills had improved, because her fiancé couldn’t seem to stop eating long enough to begin a conversation with her or with her cousin; who had happily joined them in the dining room; simply wishing to look at four different walls for a little while. Besides, that was where their Gram had kept the wine and all three of them thought that catching a little buzz was in order; to celebrate the engagement and marriage to follow quickly; if Grace had anything to say about it. So that is exactly what they did; passing jokes around the table along with the delicious food and perfectly aged and dry red wine.

Grace mentioned casually to Jesse that the detective had come and collected another DNA sample from her, but he failed to mention that he had not yet responded to the message he had been left by Detective Scheffield. He seemed to her to be very tense this evening and a bit unlike his usual optimistic self, but she didn’t make much of it. She simply thought that he was nervous and a little uncomfortable around her because they had just taken their relationship to the next level. She had no knowledge yet of the fact that her fiancé had avoided the detective today, though even if she knew she would probably rationalize that situation as well; just like she had a few others recently; brushing off some thoughts; storing them somewhere deeper in her mind so she could focus on beginning her well-deserved future. After all, love is never right or wrong…is it, she mused; thinking that love was truly blind at times. A small part of her couldn’t help but continue to wonder if her decisions were the best ones for her; her and her cousin; for she no longer only had herself and her dog to consider when making life-changing decisions.

At least the two cousins didn’t have to worry about finding permanent living arrangements; neither of them having any intention of leaving any time soon the farm they had both called home at times when they were children and when they were adults. Actually, both of them had plans to begin repairing the inviting old house; making it their own. Adrienne secretly had plans of one day turning the big house into a modest bed and breakfast; a dream she had kept to herself because she thought there would never be anyone to tell. She was happily surprised to discover upon her arrival home from the hospital that her dream could possibly someday become a reality after all. Honestly, Adrienne had never really had very extravagant dreams; like wanting to travel the world and discover new places and new experiences. She wished more for a simple life; one that was completely her own.

She was still having some difficulty where her father was concerned. The poor girl wasn’t sure how to feel. She couldn’t be certain that her own father actually shot her – with the intention of ending her life – and a small part of her still felt an odd sort of love for him. He hadn’t been the best father or role model for her and she had always been aware of that, but there was that nagging part that said he was still her father. He had raised her and provided a home for her complete with everything she had ever needed, but had not ever paid much attention to anything she wanted or anyone or anything about which she cared. When she was young there were times when she only heard from her father if she had done something wrong and had gotten caught. He was certainly never there to pat her on the back when she did well, though. She had never gotten any attention from him in the form of praise; like the man simply didn’t believe that was part of being a good parent.

Like Grace, Adrienne was ready to leave the past where it belonged…in the past. It was time for the pair to settle down into some sort of stable and – if they were lucky – happy life. Though she had not run the idea of turning the old house into a bed and breakfast by her cousin yet, Adrienne would find that when she did her cousin truly believed it was a good idea; considering the proximity to the beach and the fact that the whole town relied on the added income during the warm months; when the streets were crowded with vacationers and the town much more exciting as well. The cousins had always seemed to be able to find more trouble to get into during these months; though they also found their fair share in the winter when things slowed down maybe a bit too much; boredom not taking long to set in for either of them; something that hadn’t actually changed so much over the years.

Poor Casey was the only member of the family who was feeling quite displaced at the moment; the new sleeping arrangements that included a man in her mistress’ bed every night instead of only her bothering her very much. Enough confusing stuff had been going on around her and this just added more uncertainty for her; for what the relationship between Grace and her would become. The sad dog had curled up in a ball at Adrienne’s feet downstairs on the living room sofa to sleep for the night; the bed she normally shared with her mistress seeming a bit crowded to her right now. Adrienne had allowed her to get comfortable with her instead; actually happy for the companionship and the fact that she felt safe with the big dog so near; still disturbed a little by the bumps in the night. Everyone – including Casey – drifted off to sleep; dreaming of the new day to come.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chapter 18

Chapter Eighteen

At the very last second, Grace put her hand on the detective’s chest and gently pushed him away; a part of her feeling regret for the decision. It was clear there was a formidable chemical attraction between the two, but she could not bring herself to act so selfishly; hurting the one person who had never in her life hurt her – intentionally or by accident. She kept seeing Jesse’s handsome face in her head; unable to fathom how badly her allowing Matt Scheffield to kiss her would damage him; at this point not fully aware of just how deeply his love for his lifelong best friend ran. She was completely in the dark about all the years he had spent yearning for her; ignoring other women that had come and gone in his life; many, many women trying to get his attention over the years. Jesse Durant was an incredibly handsome man who could have had his pick out of scores of beautiful women, but he had only ever wanted one woman. He wanted Grace.

“God, Grace…I’m sorry.” offered Detective Scheffield as he felt her hand on his chest; pushing him away reluctantly.

“No, I’m sorry, Matt.” she replied, “I’m sorry…I just…Jesse and I…”

“Really, you don’t have to explain. It’s my fault.” he said definitively, “I should not have crossed that line. It’s completely unethical and I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to forgive. Let’s just forget about this little incident.” she responded; truly hoping that the moment that had almost happened between them could simply be swept under the rug. Things with her and Jesse were so new – despite the years they had spent as friends – and she vowed to see it through; see if the relationship was meant to be.

The next two minutes were extremely awkward as the detective finished apologizing and turned to leave after she was in the car and had the key in the ignition. Her heart was still beating so fast she could almost see it through her clothes. Confusion crept back into her head as she drove; as she wondered if her last decision had been the right one to make. So many life-changing events had happened so quickly in her life and she was still trying to make sense of it all. Why did her grandmother have to die? Why did her uncle have to take her mother away from her? Why hadn’t she known years ago that Jesse was the one she was meant to be with; grow old with? Was he truly the one? These were but four of the hundred questions to which she longed for answers. She had to be realistic, though, and learn to somehow accept the fact that some of her questions would plausibly never be answered.

Grace was at a loss; not knowing what to do now or where to go. Thank goodness Jesse was working, because she was positive there was no way she could face him right now; even though she had stopped the detective before anything actually happened she couldn’t help but feel some guilt. It wasn’t warranted, but she had always been that way; she had, from the time she was very young, held the belief that all the bad things that happened in her life – even as a child – were in some way her fault, her responsibility. She had always felt that if she had made different decisions throughout her life, then none of the bad things would have occurred. If she had just complained less as a child being dragged from horrible place to horrible place, then her mother wouldn’t have been so troubled; then her mother would still be with her. She had felt that if she had done things differently – married the first good man when he came around – then she wouldn’t have had so many miserably failed relationships and would have been happier. Now she knew that her mother not being there was not her choice; that if she had gotten to choose, she would have chosen to stick around for her daughter. Now she thought that, if she had married the first man that came along, that she wouldn’t have the best lover in the world…her best friend. Still it was confusing, though, because everything in her life now appeared to be the polar opposite of what she had believed for so many years. She pondered that, if nothing was what it had seemed, what else could she have been wrong about; believed was true, though was anything but true? How many more events were going to unfold in front of her; changing her entire belief system? She honestly didn’t know and that confusion could only be sorted out with time; something of which she had plenty in the present.

Not really knowing what else to do, she decided to head over to the hospital and rehash all of it with her quickly healing cousin. She was aware of how boring it must be for Adrienne now; awake and surprisingly perfect as far as she could tell. It was a toss-up as to who wanted her to be discharged from the hospital most – Grace feeling that she was currently winning that battle. Her cousin was lucky in a way, she thought, as strange as it seemed to think of it that way; her having been shot in the head in an attempt to erase her existence. All she could do was sit back and again be bowled over by all the awful manifestations of evil in her cousin’s life being unable to break her spirit; being unsuccessful in their attempts to render her so troubled that it felt as if the only way out was suicide – or worse – trying to kill her themselves. None of it had worked, though, because there she lay in the hospital bed; very much alive and on her way to the slow journey of healing – physically and emotionally. At least that healing was something the cousins could now share; making the load feel a lot lighter on both of them.

Detective Scheffield was kicking himself for what had almost happened between Grace and him; hoping that she would forget about it and about how unethical an act it really was. Unfortunately, at this time, he did not have enough to keep him busy; to keep his thoughts where they should be right now…on the case against Chris Devereaux, not kissing his niece. There was little he could do at this time, though, except inform the man that not only was he going to be tried in court for the murder of his mother and attempted murder of his daughter, he was sure to be convicted of killing his sister ten years ago. It was sterling that there was no statute of limitations for murder; that Grace could at least have some closure regarding her mother’s death. He thought about what the poor woman had had to endure since she arrived in town – which was less than two weeks ago. He wondered if he would have handled all of it with dignity, as she somehow managed to do. He had never met anyone like Grace Walker in his life; a woman so strong she could probably survive just about anything and so oblivious to this fact that she fancied herself weak instead. It was certain, he ruminated, that someday she would look back on all of the terrible, unbearable, and ill-deserved occurrences in her life and accept that they had a hand in forming the woman she had become; a formidable opponent for anything or anyone trying to do her harm in any way. If the events of the past couple weeks had not been able to break her, he didn’t know who or what could. Now all he had to do was find a way to get her off his mind; keep himself from thinking about her from the moment he woke up in the morning until he closed his eyes and fell asleep for the night. Not exactly a simple undertaking, he mused.

Jesse had Grace on his mind all day and night as well, but he could now do much more than fantasize about what it felt like to kiss her; about what it felt like to have her reciprocate the feelings he had finally dredged up the courage to express. He was thinking about her now; as he was in the midst of planning how he would carry out the surprise he had for her; the surprise that he had actually begun preparing for long ago; not just in the last few days. He wanted to make sure that everything went off without a hitch; that it was an evening that would be as close to perfect as he believed any evening could come. Not being the type of person who discussed his intimate feelings with anyone – much less Grace – it was difficult for him to plan this particular event because he was opening himself up to possible rejection and, for him, that had always been the most difficult thing.

He had been alone for as long as he could remember; his parents having died in a terrible car crash when he was only five years old. He was raised by his paternal grandmother, who was nothing like Genevieve Deveraux, but cruel and neglectful of him. The only person with which he had ever discussed this or any feelings was Grace and even though he trusted her without question, there was still a ton of old and new baggage that he completely left out of their conversations. So what he had planned for that night had the potential to crush him emotionally and he knew it. Still, he was going through with it. He had to…because he simply could not find a way to live with the alternative. Just like her, he had too many unanswered questions, too many what if’s in his life…and he had grown as tired of this as she had. There was no backing out of it now, though, he told himself. It was time for their lives to change; his, Grace’s, and Adrienne’s lives and he was going to do his part to see that it happened.  

When she got to the hospital, Grace found her cousin wide awake and absent-mindedly flipping through channel after channel on the television mounted on the wall in her hospital room. She looked up, obviously happy to see her cousin; desperate for someone to talk to or something to do to combat the boredom she was now feeling; thinking she was more than ready to go home and finish recuperating there; among familiar sights and olfactory memories; everything that screamed to her that this was home. Staying in the hospital any longer was not what Adrienne had in mind and she was not shy about expressing this to the nurses, doctors, or basically anyone who would listen. In fact, the hospital staff was probably beginning to tire of her constant complaints; all of them more than happy to see her go home soon. Her cousin knew that she could be a handful, but when she got her mind set on something, there was no changing it. This facet of her personality seemed to have survived the shooting just fine, thought Grace, chuckling to herself.

Actually she just got a good report from the doctor right after her cousin arrived; saying that the swelling on her brain had come down to almost nothing and he didn’t see why Adrienne had to remain in the hospital any longer. She still had plenty of recuperating to do, however, so he imposed several restrictions on her release. Grace joked about the situation; voicing that it almost sounded like her cousin was getting paroled from prison, not going home from the hospital. Her cousin said she could joke all she wanted to right now because the doctor had appointed her Adrienne’s guardian; a position that would probably be somewhat akin to slavery by the time she was through with her. Grace could picture in her head her cousin lying on the living room sofa all day with a little bell that she could ring any time she wanted or needed something. And that was plausibly exactly how things were going to turn out, but she didn’t care. She would happily take care of Adrienne as long as she needed help. Anything to have her home where she belongs, she thought.

As the doctor was preparing her discharge papers, Detective Scheffield was going over the results of the analysis of the hair samples he had sent off to a lab in Raleigh that finally arrived and was dropped on his desk while he was away from it; all the other officers respecting the fact that the rookie detective had to see and hear absolutely everything for himself; leaving not much for the others to do in regards to the current case against Chris Devereaux. He still had not as of yet charged the prisoner with the murder of his sister; waiting for the word to come down from his boss, Brady Peterson. He wanted to be certain that the state could put him away for a very long time for his sister’s homicide; the prosecution still not sure if they had a strong enough case to get a conviction on the other charges; his mother’s homicide and daughter’s attempted homicide.

The case was purely circumstantial and many times cases like that are difficult to win. Yes, it was his gun that they had pulled from the pond in the woods behind his mother’s house and his fingerprints had been the only ones found on the weapon, but they really couldn’t prove that he used it to shoot the two victims or that he was the one who disposed of it in that pond. Granted, nearly the entire town would like nothing more than for Chris Devereaux to never again see the light of day, but that might not happen in this case. The other one had to be a sure win, thought the detective; having an eye witness who could relay the whole, awful story of how her aunt, Vivienne Devereaux, was murdered in cold blood. And the fact that the eye witness was his own daughter carried a particularly heavy weight, Detective Scheffield believed. Either way, the man was going to prison – and doing a lot of time – for homicide.

The detective read over the analysis of the hair samples very carefully; not understanding all the scientific jargon, but able to figure out what the end result was in any case. It turned out, to his dismay, that the one human hair that was pulled off of Genevieve’s robe where she lay dead at the bottom of the stairs did not match any of the samples he had collected. They had a complete DNA profile, but that mattered little if the DNA didn’t match anyone already in the system. The hair did not belong to a person who had been convicted of any felony crime, so that sent them directly back to square one. Detective Scheffield wasn’t sure what to do next; where to go from there. As best as he could recall, he had collected hair samples from Chris and Caroline Devereaux, Grace Walker, Herbert Mullins, Jesse Durant, and several of Genevieve’s closest neighbors. It certainly did not come from Chris Devereaux’s head and that was just one more valuable punch for the defense to pull; arguing that if the hair of an unknown perpetrator was what was found on the body of the deceased at the crime scene, then the shooter could not possibly have been Chris Devereaux. It had to be someone else; perhaps a stranger merely passing through town. The detective could already hear the defense lawyer arguing this point. Unfortunately, there was a fairly decent chance that he could walk for the shootings of his mother and daughter, but he still wouldn’t be walking anywhere except directly to a prison cell; the tiny space that would be his home for what the detective hoped would be a very long time. At the very least, he would be an extremely old man by the time he was released – unless he got life with no parole – which was exactly what practically everyone desired to see happen.

So Detective Scheffield made his way over to Brady Peterson’s office to deliver the bad news; the analysis of the hair samples didn’t answer a question…it made them ask another one. Now they had to go back and collect DNA samples from all of the same people who gave them hair samples because the hair didn’t match any of the samples given; plus find out who else he must have missed. Whoever the hair actually belonged to had never committed a crime in his or her life until now. What a crime to begin with, thought the detective. Homicide. He was having trouble putting the pieces together in this puzzle; nothing seemed to fit anywhere all of a sudden.

Plus, the hair found on Genevieve not belonging to her son, Chris, only reinforced for him the fact that he never thought the man committed this crime in the first place. He wasn’t sure why he felt this way; it wasn’t something that could be put into words; just a feeling, a hunch he had. His opinion was that, since all of the evidence pointed more toward his innocence than his guilt, he would probably end up walking on these charges – unless somehow the jury was swayed enough due to the gun and fingerprints on it – which he doubted. Just another hunch he had. He did, however, believe that prison was exactly where Chris Devereaux belonged. He believed whole-heartedly that he was a guilty man; guilty of homicide…guilty of the murder of his own sister. The man clearly had some sort of moral vacuity; what else was he capable of if he would kill his own flesh and blood; undoubtedly over an argument that wasn’t worth killing to win. Just another feeling he had about the man.

Grace and Adrienne were leaving the hospital – hopefully for the last time – and on their way home; their home now; just the two of them. They had always imagined as children growing up and taking over the family property; joked about being two old ladies sitting on the front porch in their rocking chairs sipping sweet tea and watching the sunset. The cousins had many good memories from childhood; despite the tumultuous upbringing they both had to survive somehow. And they did. Survive. Adrienne was alive and surprisingly well and they were going to face what the future held together; just like they had done so many times when they were young. Theirs was a bond that clearly wasn’t meant to be broken; not now anyway.

Adrienne still had to rest and was given specific instructions from the doctor about what activities in which she could and could not participate. She was not to ride in a car any more than absolutely necessary and any physical exertion was to be kept to a minimum. Grace was there to take care of her properly, she thought. She could certainly make sure she was fed three square meals a day and wasn’t out running about town; that she would get plenty of fluids and bedrest. It almost sounded to her like her cousin merely had a touch of the flu; not a bullet that remained lodged in her head – probably forever. But it wasn’t the flu and she had every intention of tending to her as she needed to and making sure she didn’t try to do too much or leave the house unless necessary. Adrienne was going to make a full recovery if her persistent cousin had anything to do with it. 

The patient was in good spirits in the car; so happy to be out of the hospital and going home, but when Grace pulled into the driveway she noticed her cousin tense up a bit. Perhaps she was thinking of what had happened there at ‘Devereaux Downs’; to her and to her grandmother. It saddened her deeply that she had been unable to attend the funeral. She still felt like she needed to say a proper goodbye to Genevieve. She just wasn’t sure how to achieve that goal. Would she still feel her in the house, she wondered, or would it only be a house; a big, empty house when she walked through the door? Grace had told Adrienne of how she had dreamt of their grandmother every night up to the night of the kidnapping and she mused that her spirit may still not be at rest. After all, the case against her father had yet to go to trial, so there was still unrest in her opinion. Part of her wished that her grandmother’s spirit was still lingering in the house; giving her a chance to see or feel her presence one more time; just to tell her all was well and she could move on to the next world in which she would live. She just wished for one more time to see her; just one more.

Grace put the key in the lock on the front door; having helped her cousin out of the car and up to the porch. She looked back at her with an expression that seemed to ask “Are you ready?” Adrienne merely nodded her head; holding her breath in anticipation of seeing the big, old house again. It went a bit better than she thought it would; her stepping over the threshold slowly, looking all around as she walked in. Casey heard the key in the lock and had run up to the door as her mistress and Adrienne came in; her little nub of a tail wagging furiously. Grace was careful not to let the huge dog jump up on her cousin; which she had a bad habit of doing, though that was probably Grace’s fault for she always allowed her to do it to her. Adrienne petted her soft head lovingly as she stepped into the living room, right off the foyer to the left as one walks in; taking in a big breath of air that smelled of aged wood and nostalgia. It did feel strange to Adrienne to walk in and not hear her grandmother’s voice yelling at her from the kitchen with her usual, “I’m back here. In the kitchen.” Now the kitchen was empty; just another room in the large farmhouse. She didn’t imagine there would be a whole lot of cooking done in that kitchen anymore. She and Grace were not the best at preparing meals. It was funny, but the two were actually having the same thought at the same time. Grace couldn’t help but think, thank God for Jesse, for he could actually cook. He would obviously be spending a lot more time here than he had in the past; due to the partnership developing between the new lovers.

While the two cousins were getting settled in their house, Jesse was putting the final touches on the surprise he had planned for Grace tonight. It was a surprise that he had actually begun preparing for years ago, but hadn’t felt the moment was right until now. Either that or he simply hadn’t had the guts to put his feelings out there to be judged by Grace; the possibility of her rejecting him had been too great in his mind. In reality, she hadn’t rejected him at all. Things between them seemed to him to be – perfect. He knew that he had spent the last two nights in her bed; making love every night and waking up still in a loving embrace every morning. The two had not been apart long since that first night; only taking time to deal with necessary tasks during the daytime; each waiting impatiently for night to come again so they could be together.

Grace made Adrienne comfortable on the living room sofa; night beginning to fall. Her cousin could not bring herself to sleep in the same bed in the same room where she had been shot in the head as she slept. Maybe she would never be able to, but there was plenty of time in which to decide that. Nothing had to be rushed. She could take as much time as she needed to get settled for good in the big, old house that she had called home almost as many times as Grace had throughout her life. Jesse showed up at the house then; surprised to see Adrienne home so soon after her ordeal, but nonetheless happy that she was there and recuperating quickly. He had planned a special evening for just Grace and him, but he could improvise, he thought. He would work with what he had.

He brought in the picnic dinner – complete with champagne – that he had packed for the two to dine on right on the beach. Since that wasn’t happening tonight, the three would simply have to attend the dinner in the living room; right where Adrienne laid. Grace was pleasantly surprised by the picnic he had planned; not knowing what she was going to feed her poor cousin that night. She guessed she should have called him and told him she was bringing Adrienne home, though he did not seem to mind the third wheel in this situation. He was, however, mulling over whether or not he should save the big surprise he had for his new love for another time. After careful thought, he decided that there was no time like the present; knowing that if he backed out now he may lose his nerve and end up losing her all over again. That was definitely not what he wanted to happen. He wouldn’t let that happen again, he vowed silently.  

The three ate and talked for a couple of hours; all three happy at this moment. Just happy to be well and together. This night felt like so many nights had in the past, for the three had been through a lot together; all growing up in a small town; each with their own problems. Jesse had lost his parents very young and was raised by a heavy-handed and unkind grandmother. Adrienne lost her mother very young as well; raised by her cruel father and plausibly even crueler stepmother, so they had this in common with each other. Grace’s upbringing had not been so far removed from her cousin’s and best friend’s upbringing. She had never even met her father and had lost her mother as a young adult; though it was her grandmother who cared for her the most during her childhood. Any way one looked at it, the three of them had shared much in life and all of them hoped that the trend of being together and involved in each other’s lives would continue; just on a slightly different note. Grace and Adrienne now owned the homey farmhouse and were delighted that they could finally make it their own; make it a home that they wanted to last for all time. Now, they were the ones calling the shots and both women couldn’t be happier about that. Being shuffled around from place to place would never happen again as far as they were concerned. This would be their home forever – however long that was meant to be for the cousins.

After everyone had eaten, Grace got up to start clearing the dishes away and tidy up a bit, but Jesse stopped her as she rose from her chair by grabbing her hand gently and pulling her back down to her seat. She had no idea what he was doing, but she acquiesced and sat there; waiting for whatever it was he was going to do or say. He had an extremely nervous look about him, she thought; his hand even being a tad sweaty when he had grabbed hers. She couldn’t imagine what was about to follow, but she was definitely curious about his slightly odd behavior. After all, he had never been a typical man; always following the beat of a different drum. So she wasn’t expecting what he was about to say, but simply thought he had a little speech or something to give now that Adrienne was home.

To her shock, instead of going into a speech about her cousin’s return home, he dropped down to one knee in front of where Grace sat and took both of her hands in his own. Her heart began to beat at a furious pace, now aware of just what exactly he had planned. She looked over at Adrienne, who smiled at her knowingly and seemed to hold her breath in anticipation as well as her cousin.

“Grace, I love you. I have loved you my whole life and I don’t want to lose you again. Ever again.” he began. “It would feel like this were too soon to make this move, but I’ve known you as long as I can remember. We have survived a lot in the past together…and I’m hoping we can survive everything that the future holds…together. You have always been my very best friend…and now I want my best friend to be my wife. Marry me, Grace.” he said as he pulled from his pocket a small, black jewelry box. He flipped it open and inside there was the most beautiful diamond ring she had ever seen; even more beautiful than the one she had slipped off of her finger when she left Michael. He pulled the ring from the box and gently took her left hand; waiting for an answer to his very serious question.

Across town, Detective Scheffield was lying in his bed; wide awake because he could not stop thinking. He couldn’t stop thinking about the moment that had almost happened between Grace and him earlier in the day. He thought about how beautiful she was – inside and out – and how different a woman she was; different than any woman he had ever met in his life. There was a strength he saw in her that he admired very much. He thought that he may not have had the fortitude to deal with and overcome all of the obstacles she had faced in her life. All of the things in her life that tried to knock her down had only succeeded in becoming a mere hiccup to her, for she had gotten back up every single time she had been knocked down and had persevered despite things in her life that many other people could not have survived. He respected her very much for this.

He also couldn’t help but think about the case against Chris Devereaux – the current case. Who could he have missed when he collected hair samples, he pondered. There had to be someone or something he had overlooked. He was only collecting DNA samples from the people he had collected hair samples from for further proof that the shooter’s DNA did not match any of their’s; the person the police sought was clearly someone else. How he could have missed a suspect in the tiny town bothered him greatly. He simply could not fathom who else it could be; who else was there to look at, he asked himself over and over.

 It was just beginning to dawn on him that perhaps the hair samples had not been collected carefully enough; him having doled that out as the responsibility of a few other officers. He realized that he couldn’t do everything himself – as much as he wanted to do just that. He had to allow the men under him to work the case as well. Though now that he had done that, he thought it may have been a mistake. Did they watch each person carefully as they were given the samples? Was it possible that someone had given them a false sample because they had allowed the suspects too much freedom in turning in a usable hair sample? Was it possible that someone had tried to trick the police – to dupe them – by giving them hair that really belonged to another? These were the questions plaguing him this night; keeping him from getting some badly needed rest; the sleep that he had not gotten since this case first broke. Now, on top of the questions he had about the case, he had unanswered questions where Grace was concerned. All he knew right then was that he wanted to stop thinking for a while; leave the second-guessing of himself for the new day that followed.