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.