Monday, July 27, 2015

Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen


Grace and Jesse awoke the next morning still wrapped in each other’s arms; Casey having snuck up onto the foot of the bed after the two had fallen asleep and now slept there curled up in a ball. Neither remembered ever feeling what they had felt the night before; during sex or otherwise. The sex had been an incredibly uninhibited act for both of them; to their surprise each had explored and enjoyed the other’s body without the awkwardness that both had secretly worried about feeling if they ever made love. He was a passionate and tender lover; with intimate knowledge of the sensitive parts of a woman’s body, Grace finding this fortuitous, as she could not recall him ever having a girlfriend. Somehow he had grown into a fierce and skilled lover; causing feelings to stir in her that she had never known existed; particularly deep and lustful feelings that she harbored for him; for the sexy, naked man lying in her bed at that very moment. It would be impossible to turn back the clock now; the two would never again be platonic friends. The door had been opened and it was one that couldn’t be closed.

They made love again that morning; everything and everyone else forgotten at that time. All they could see or hear was each other; him seeing her ample breasts and rounded, tight bottom and hearing her moans of pleasure; her seeing the sexy curves of his perfect pectorals and muscled abdomen; her breath taken away as he entered her. The entire time they were together as one nothing else existed. She thought of nothing; all the unbelievable things that had taken place since she arrived in Aurora stored somewhere in the back of her mind, but certainly not taxing to her right then. All she could do – or cared to do – was feel; feel the lust and also the newly found and vastly different love she now felt for him.

Poor Casey was waiting patiently at the back door to be let out when the pair finally emerged from the bedroom. Grace opened the door and she went flying past her out to the yard; her following behind her dog; taking in a huge breath of the fresh and unseasonably cool morning air. The sun was beaming overhead and the azure sky was dotted with puffy, white clouds. She definitely felt a new beginning on the horizon; one that she now thought should have happened a long time ago. She pondered how she could have missed the chemical bond that existed between them and merely been friends for all those years. Was he the one? Was Jesse Durant the man that she was destined to grow old with? Was he the man she was meant to marry? All these questions ran through her mind as she sat on the back steps of what was now her house; hers and Adrienne’s.

She was ecstatic about her newfound love, but she still wished more than anything that her cousin was home to share all her experiences; to see this new life unfolding at ‘Devereaux Downs’; despite the life that was lost there. She hadn’t had the time yet to truly mourn the loss of her grandmother; not with the unbelievable events that seemed to keep happening since her return home. Grace was afraid to allow herself to settle in and live her life. Every time she was convinced that whatever dubious thing had occurred was the last horrible, painful, and scary event that was coming, something else would happen. She never would have believed that in the span of about a week and a half she would have watched her grandmother committed to the earth, seen her cousin in a coma from a gunshot wound to the head, learned that she still had a living grandfather extremely close by, and been kidnapped by her former love; not to mention being made privy to the information that her mother’s death was a homicide rather than a suicide; neither of them easy with which to deal, but if she had to choose…she would choose knowing that her mother didn’t simply decide to leave her behind and wound her more deeply than anything or anyone in her life ever had. She would choose to see her own uncle tried and convicted for the heinous and unnecessary crime; despite how that would probably hurt her cousin. She was of the mind, though, that Adrienne was in full compliance with her about this particular subject.

Thinking about her mother and what she had just learned made her decide to go pay her Uncle Chris a visit where he sat in the county jail awaiting trial for the murder of his own mother and the attempted murder of his own daughter – all done, if it were done by him, in an attempt to cover up the first murder. She imagined that if he were the culprit he was most likely regretting his behavior as he sat in a concrete cell with only a two-by-two window for him to see the outside world of which he was no longer a part; that and a hardened criminal with which he shared the tiny accommodations. She was just coming to the realization that he knew nothing of the conversation between her and his daughter that had taken place the day before. He would be shocked to learn that his long kept secret was out and he was about to have another murder charge tacked on to the already bleak and hopeless case of which he was the defendant. He kept rehashing over and over what got him to where he was and how he was going to prove he didn’t do it to a jury of his peers; most of whom disliked him immensely in the first place. There were plenty of people that would love nothing more than to see him convicted whether he was guilty or not. He didn’t have much hope now and was about to be made aware of circumstances that would make what little hope he had dwindle quickly.

Grace told Jesse of her plans over breakfast; him wishing her good luck and telling her he couldn’t wait to hear about the specifics of her meeting with Chris Devereaux; honestly pleased that he was where he was because he believed he deserved to answer for the awful things he had done throughout his life. He was also more than pleased that he could finally express the deep and lasting love he had felt for her for so many years. He himself wondered why he had waited so long to tell his best friend the truth about his feelings for her. Perhaps both of their lives would have been different – better – than they had been; neither of them having to go through traumatic experiences alone, he surmised. Now he only had to decide what the perfect time and setting would be for the surprise he had in store for her; something he had waited his whole adult life to do; something he had planned years ago, but just now found the courage to share with her. He decided he would have to give that one some thought; wanting everything to be as close to perfect as possible when he moved to the next phase of his plan.

They kissed each other goodbye when he left for work; a deep, lingering kiss that she wished would never end. He left and she headed upstairs to take a long, cool shower; Casey no longer clinging to her in the house, but roaming around every room without reservation; making herself comfortable on the living room sofa – something she was never allowed to do before Genevieve’s death. The smart dog could feel that this house now belonged to them and they could do in it whatever they wished to do; including her taking a nice, long nap on any piece of furniture she chose. Grace finished her shower and got dressed; choosing a dress that hugged every one of her ample curves; allowing herself to again feel sexy. She did her best to cover with makeup the healing scrapes and scratches on her face; noticing a glow on her face despite these. She was breathtakingly beautiful even with her injuries; something she had never really felt about herself. Despite the unending attention she had always received from men, she had never thought of herself as that attractive; feeling average in a world full of good-looking people. In reality, she was anything but average. She was one of the true, rare beauties that existed in the world; her heart a hundred times more beautiful than her pretty face.

After doing whatever she could to avoid leaving the house and visiting her uncle, she finally gave up the mundane chores that could surely wait until more pressing issues were handled and headed out the front door; for once leaving her dog behind as she locked the door and got in her car. Anxiety began to rear its ugly head as she drove the ten or fifteen minute drive to the county jail which sat directly beside the police station; a hallway connecting the two buildings from the inside. Actually, she wanted to check with Detective Scheffield first to discern whether or not Chris Devereaux had been charged with the murder of her mother yet. Nothing would give her more pleasure at this point than to be the one who got to break the news to him; the news that he would only be leaving that jail in handcuffs and shackles – on his way to an even worse fate – a North Carolina state prison; probably for the remainder of his days here on earth with the living.

Walking into the police station, she knew exactly where to find the detective. Ignoring the officer stationed at the front desk, she strolled right past him and through the doors that led to what the officers referred to as “the bull pen”. Luckily she found him seated at his disorganized and overloaded desk; him smiling up at her as she entered; happy to have any distraction from the ennui he was feeling at this moment, but particularly pleased that the distraction provided was Grace Walker.

“Grace. Have a seat. You look well; like you’re healing quickly. How are you?” asked Detective Scheffield; mulling over in his head all of the life-changing things that had recently happened in her life; hoping she was not about to tell him something else bad that had occurred since they last spoke.

“Hi, detective. I’m doing well…considering.” she replied.

“What brings you in this morning?” he inquired; bracing himself for the answer because he knew if it were coming from Grace it could be anything.

“I just wanted to find out if you had charged my uncle yet…you know, with my mother’s murder?” she asked, “I decided that I’m going to pay him a little visit to tell him I know his secret – that everyone will soon know his secret. It’s just that I want more than you can imagine to be the one to break the news to him. It would be closure for me, in a way.” explained a very nervous Grace. “There is nothing I can do to him to avenge my mother’s death except know that he’s rotting in prison for it. The only way I can repay him for what he did is to watch the color drain from his face as I tell him that I know my mother did not commit suicide. I want him to realize what he took from me.” she told the detective; a few tears escaping her big, blue eyes; tears she swiftly wiped away in the hope that they had not been seen. Not even Grace herself could tell anyone what the loss of her mother had done to her psyche; believing for ten years that it was her own, selfish choice; believing her mother simply didn’t love her enough to stick around; believing many awful things about her.

“I can certainly understand where you’re coming from.” began Detective Scheffield, “And no…we have not formally charged him with your mother’s murder. I still want to speak with your cousin and get her take on it; see if she’s willing to testify against him. Without her, our case against him is extremely weak and circumstantial. I just want to be sure we can put the bastard away for this.” he said; believing with all his heart that Chris Devereaux did kill his sister, Vivienne. Now he was starting to remember things he had been told that may help their case in court; things such as the vicious fights between the two siblings that Herbert Mullins had described witnessing. The puzzle pieces were beginning to fit now; helping him to see the big picture…and Chris Devereaux did not come out smelling like a rose.

“Would it be okay for me to tell him or is there a reason you want to hold off on delivering the news?” she inquired; hoping like hell that he would tell her it was fine for her to play the messenger.

“No. It’s okay. You can tell him.” the detective informed her; noticing the look of satisfaction already starting to blossom on her pretty face. “I’ll walk you over, if you like. I wouldn’t mind seeing the look on his arrogant face, either, but I’ll give you the privacy you need for such a conversation.”

“Thank you, detective. Really.” she offered with sincerity.

“I feel like we’ve been through a lot together…please call me Matt. Detective sounds so formal.” he responded with a smile; a smile that held much more feeling than she realized.

“Deal. Matt.” said Grace nervously; seeing an expression on his handsome face that she couldn’t quite figure out.

As she replied, she actually took a good, long look at his face; in a strange way feeling as if she were really seeing it for the first time. She had never noticed before how handsome he truly was; tall and well built; dark hair cropped short that framed his face with its strong jaw and lips that were neither thin nor full, but somewhere in between. He had striking green eyes; a green she had never seen before; light, but still full of color; with long, dark eyelashes; plush and full like those of a young child. They made the color of his large, almond shaped eyes pop even more than they already did on their own. They did live in the south and it was nearing summer, so he was suntanned a dark, golden brown; which made his strong features stand out even more; even his hands were tanned; big, strong hands that looked as if they had seen more than a few days of hard labor. She felt a pang of guilt; thinking about Jesse and the new relationship into which they were evolving, but rationalized that she was only looking; herself not being sure why she was seeing the detective in a different light all of a sudden.

She brushed these thoughts aside as they entered the jail; the smell of the place making her nauseated; its aroma a mixture of sweat, urine, and also a scent resembling something like dirty socks. Detective Scheffield led her to a small room with no windows; furnished only with a metal table that looked as if it were bolted to the floor and two round, metal stools – one on either side of the table - that were also secured to the floor. She sat on the uncomfortably hard stool on the left side of the table; realizing how close she would be to her uncle physically when he was brought in if she sat on the right side. It took quite a while to get him handcuffed, shackled, and out of his cell for the walk downstairs to where his niece was sitting; waiting impatiently to absolutely let him have it. There was so much anger and resentment built up in her from all the years of torment he had inflicted upon Adrienne alone; her recent knowledge of him being the reason her mother was dead only adding to the already huge pile of emotions she was experiencing.

Grace emerged from her thoughts as the door to the stark and claustrophobic room swung open and her uncle was led in, shuffling his feet to walk due to the shackles binding his ankles. The guard walked him to the table and shoved him down onto the empty stool; her noticing that her uncle was not being treated very well, though it was difficult for her to feel any empathy for him in his current situation. She didn’t say a word as his handcuffs were secured to the table; only glared at him across the table; nervous as hell on the inside, but hoping it didn’t show on the outside. She definitely wished to have the upper hand in this situation; though this was already decided by the fact that she was free to leave at any time and he certainly was not. Her uncle sat there with a smug look on his face; a look that she wanted more than anything to slap right off it, but she managed to restrain herself; eager to begin this particular conversation with Chris Devereaux – a man that she was ashamed to have to call her uncle.

“How is Adrienne, Grace? I haven’t been able to find out anything stuck in here. Is she okay?” he asked; yet the expression on his face failed to change enough to make his fake concern believable.

“You have the nerve to ask about Addie? You shot your daughter!” Grace retorted; her voice quickly rising in anger.

“Grace, I didn’t do it!” he exclaimed, “How could you actually believe that about me? You think I tried to kill my own daughter?”

“Yes!” she yelled; even getting the attention of the guard stationed outside the room; adjusting the volume of her rant. She did not want anything to stop her from speaking her mind to her incarcerated relative. “Yes. I think you tried to kill Addie and I think you succeeded in killing Gram”…him interrupting her to speak.

“You know I could never do anything like that. What kind of man do you think I am? You actually think”…her interrupting him in return.

“Oh you don’t know the half of what I think about you.” she said through clenched teeth, “You don’t know the half of what I know about you, so you can save the false concern, Uncle Chris.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked; the smug look he had worn replaced with something a little more like fear. After all, he did have another skeleton that he mistakenly believed still resided in the closet.

“I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.” she tossed back at him; this only adding to the already perplexed and worried expression he wore.

“Grace, I don’t.” he began, “I can understand why you might believe I shot them, but I swear to you…it wasn’t me. I swear I don’t know how somebody got my gun, but they did. Somebody did…somehow.”

“I thought I told you to save it.” she replied; her confidence growing as she saw his dwindling more with each second that passed. “You want to know why I believe it? You want to know why I believe you killed my grandmother and tried to do the same to my cousin?”

“Please…tell me.” he practically begged; not having a clue what she was about to say to him. His mind was on the current case – the one that had landed him in jail; not the ten year old case he thought was long forgotten; not the case that included an eye-witness to help seal his fate.

“I know what happened between you and my mother, Uncle Chris.” she spat out; the look in her eyes so intense that he knew for certain that he had been found out; the time he had feared had inexorably arrived. He had worried every day for ten years that this moment would eventually come, but had gotten away with it for so long that it was still a shock to hear the words come out of his niece’s mouth.

“What are you talking about, Grace?” he inquired; playing dumb, but feeling fairly certain he knew of what she spoke; only hoping that his act was believable.

 At this moment, he was praying silently that she wasn’t talking about the murder of her mother – his only sister – because he was well aware of how much more vulnerable he was if she were talking about that very thing. He knew his daughter had witnessed the entire, horrendous act; him strangling his sister until she passed out, then throwing a rope up and over one of the old, wooden rafters in his mother’s barn, making a noose in the thick, braided rope, and placing it around her neck; pulling with all his might until Vivienne Devereaux was off of the dirt floor and swinging through the air; still alive at this point and awakened from her unconscious state when she was hoisted off the ground; death not coming fast enough to prevent suffering on her part, but slow and agonizing. The absolute worst part about the whole scenario was that he could have fastened the noose so her neck would have broken instantly, saving her such misery, but he chose not to do that. Chris Devereaux had deliberately fashioned it in such a way that his sister would have kicked her legs wildly through the air in an attempt to reach the ground and grabbed the rope around her neck; gasping for breath as the noose only drew tighter in her panic. For that, Grace felt he should suffer for the rest of his days just like her mother had to suffer; only his anguish would last for years not minutes.

“You killed my mother.” she stated simply; using every ounce of bravery she could muster trying not to cry. She did not want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he could still hurt her.

“Oh, God.” was all he said; then he dropped his head in defeat; knowing that if she possessed that knowledge she also knew that Adrienne had seen the entire thing.   

“God’s the only one who can help you now.” stated Grace emphatically. Now that she had told her uncle the truth, it no longer felt like enough. She wanted to know why; why her mother had had to die; what argument could have been so unresolvable that it resulted in one of the participant’s death.

“Grace, I know you don’t believe me, but I am so sorry.” he stated; sounding genuine; as if perhaps he experienced regret over killing his sister, her mother.

“No. I don’t believe a word that comes out of your foul mouth. Why should I?” she asked of him. “Why are you sorry, Uncle Chris…because you got caught? What exactly are you sorry for? Are you sorry for hanging my mother and allowing me to believe for the last ten years that she did that to herself? Or maybe you’re sorry for being the reason your mother is lying in a casket in the ground. Oh, wait I know…” she spouted sarcastically, “I know. You’re sorry for putting a bullet in your own daughter’s head so she couldn’t tell me your big secret. So which one is it? Please…do tell.”

“Grace, I am responsible for killing Vivienne – and for that I will be forever sorry – but I didn’t shoot Mom and Adrienne. Oh, God, you have to believe me. I didn’t do it. I didn’t.” he insisted; her appalled that it actually sounded like he was telling the truth. She could see a few tears escaping from his tired and worried eyes; this lending a tad more credibility, but not enough for her.

She steeled herself against it and said, “Look. There’s no point in rehashing it. Nothing you can say or do is going to change my opinion of you…or my belief in your guilt or innocence. I just wanted to let you know that I know your secret…and so does everyone else now. I took Addie’s diary to the detective and handed that over; which contains some entries that are pretty damning – and she is planning to testify against you.”

He cut her off; his expression changed from resignation to hope and he asked, “She’s awake?”

“Yes. She’s awake. And okay – no thanks to you.” she replied; surprised that she did feel a pang of sympathy for him, though it was only for a fleeting moment. Then the anger resurfaced quickly and she told her uncle, “Oh. Guess what else I know? I know that Caroline skipped town with your inheritance money.” she said; feeling bad instantly for the words that had just escaped her mouth, for it wasn’t like her to be so cruel and spiteful. She had never been a vindictive person, though it was difficult for her to simply accept the awful acts he had committed and move on with her life.

The visit with her uncle ended then; the guard outside telling him his time was up and he had to return to his cell. She simply looked up at him as he shuffled toward the door and said definitively, “Bye, Uncle Chris”; in a tone that suggested she would not be seeing him again; not until the trial began and she sat behind the table for the prosecution; sending the clear message that she no longer cared to be his niece. Honestly, she wasn’t positive that he was the one who had killed Genevieve and tried to kill Adrienne. There was a part of her that didn’t want to believe someone to which she was related could have committed such unforgivable acts; crimes that definitely branched out and affected many people, some of whom weren’t terribly close to the family, but nonetheless were saddened by these crimes that were committed in their town. Then there was the part of her who knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had murdered her mother; this part – this belief - winning over the other right now.

That is what occurs in a small town after a tragedy of any sort; from car accidents to murder and every other awful thing in between. Things like these didn’t happen often in Aurora or Weston – or any other small towns that were dotted across the United States, but when something catastrophic did invade their towns, small town people had a habit of coming together to support each other. In big cities, something huge to a small town was commonplace; having to deal with things like rape, murder, and home invasions every single day. So the residents of the cities become desensitized to it and tend to react in an opposite way; by going off on their own instead of dealing with grief together; by not acting as a savior to someone who screams, “Help!”, but instead merely going about his or her day as if the experience never happened and everything was copacetic. Grace had never been able to wrap her head around that sort of mentality; that “it’s none of my business” kind of attitude. Then again, she had been raised in a small town; tiny, actually, and that’s not how things got done there.

She stopped by to see Detective Scheffield on her way out of the jail; him again at his desk; puttering around trying to look busy. He looked happy to see her, though she thought that a bit strange. It wasn’t strange to the detective. He was discovering that the more time he spent with Grace Walker, the more attracted to her he was becoming. Of course it would be totally unethical if any sort of relationship outside of her involvement in the cases were to develop, but every time he saw her beautiful face and heard her sexy voice, he couldn’t help but let his imagination go to places that it probably shouldn’t be going; places in his mind that he visualized himself kissing her in a way no other man ever had. Though it was unknown to anyone else, including Grace, he was beginning to fall in love with her; a woman with whom he had never even been on a date.

Grace sat down in front of his desk; oblivious to the thoughts presently running through his mind. “I just wanted to say thanks. I know you didn’t have to let me do what you did; you could’ve charged him with my mother’s murder before you let me talk to him.” she offered sincerely.

“It’s no problem. Really. Did you say everything you wanted to say?” he asked of her, “I mean…are you…do you feel any better at least?”

“Yes. I do feel better. I still can’t believe he had the audacity to ask me how Add…Adrienne is doing, but he did.” she explained. “At least I got to say what I needed to say for closure. I think I got my point across. And thank you. Really. It means a lot to me.”

“You’re welcome.” he replied; unable to retrieve more than those two words from his vocabulary at the moment. He found himself at a loss for words whenever she appeared; immediately becoming nervous and stumbling over his words. “If you have a second I’ll walk you out.” he offered; more for selfish reasons than he would like to admit.

“Yes, of course. Thanks.” she answered him.

“Great. Just have a seat and I’ll be back in a sec. I just have to run this upstairs.” he explained as he held a brown file folder up in the air; flashing her a smile.

“Okay. No problem.” was her response.

Grace waited patiently for the two minutes it took the detective to run the file upstairs and come back down. He retrieved her from her post at his desk; sweeping his arm through the air to say “ladies first”. She walked past him and he followed directly behind; finding it impossible not to take notice of her well-rounded curves and small waist. She was wearing a dress that only accentuated her figure more; the detective letting his eyes run down the length of her long, fit legs and back up again to her perfect rear end. He kept chastising himself silently for being so unprofessional, but simply could not help himself. She was, of course, completely unaware that his eyes were roaming all over her sexy body; just putting one foot in front of the other until they reached the door that led outside.

Instead of saying goodbye there, to her astonishment he walked with her all the way through the parking lot to her car - which was parked about as far away from the door as one could park. They made pleasant conversation as they strolled at a leisurely pace; both not willing to admit to themselves that there was electricity in the air between them as they walked side by side. Matt Scheffield had known he felt a certain affinity for her since they had met; one that had been growing in him ever since. Grace was still reeling from what had been happening between her best friend and her for the last couple of days; it was almost more than she could deal with to now feel something occurring between the detective and herself; not quite sure what that something was, but being aware that it had everything to do with the sexual tension she felt between them now; so thick one could cut it with a knife.

Finally reaching her car, she assumed that would be the end of their little stroll and she would be on her way; on her way back home to the man who had spent the last two nights in her bed. That is not what happened, however. She unlocked the car door and leaned in to set her purse and cell phone down on the passenger seat; then backed up out of the car and turned around; finding that he was standing much closer to her than she had expected to find him. In fact, there was less than the standard three feet between them and she found that she was staring directly into his striking green eyes; full of passion for her at this moment; him staring intensely back at her.

For what seemed like an eternity, the two merely stood there – staring at each other, but neither of them moved a muscle. He noticed how the light struck her hair; making her blonde, resplendent highlights shine and how argent and deep her blue eyes truly were. He knew he shouldn’t do what he was about to do, but it was taking every ounce of energy he had to refrain and he knew it was waning nimbly. Grace wasn’t thinking at all right now; she could only feel; feel a magnetic pull in Matt Scheffield’s direction. If she had been thinking, she would have already stopped herself to make sure Jesse did not get hurt and she did not make what would indelibly be a mistake. She turned her attention back to the detective when she felt him move in even closer; felt his hot breath on her lips. She knew she had only a split second in which to make a decision…because she was about to be kissed by another man.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen


Grace awoke the next morning feeling that something had changed between her and her best friend since she had arrived in town. She quietly rolled over in bed so she was facing Jesse; careful not to wake him. He looked quite handsome as he lay there sleeping, she thought; a smile forming on her beautiful face; beautiful despite the many scrapes and scratches she had received on her recent journey, though she wasn’t thinking about that at this moment. That was a part of her life that she wished to put behind her as fast as she could do so. Now she was thinking about the fact that she could possibly be falling in love with the man presently sharing her bed. The man she had known as her best friend for almost her entire life.

Perhaps the universe had been trying to tell her something all along and – now that she could see past her own nose – she was finally beginning to hear the true message meant to be delivered; that the love of her life had been right in front of her the whole time and she had been so busy not listening that she hadn’t noticed until now. All of a sudden it simply felt…right, natural. She truly did believe that everything in life happens for a reason; even the smallest, seemingly insignificant things. She couldn’t help but think about everything she and her lifelong best friend had experienced together and, when she added up all the individual moments, she felt as if the numbers were telling her that he had been and continued to be a constant in her life; someone who had been there to support her no matter what the situation. He was the only one who had suffered with her through it all and not been scared away by her troubled life. He had embraced it with her instead.

Her musings were cut short by the whine of her dog, already up and standing by the bedroom door; impatient to be let outside. This woke Jesse as well, who gave her a sweet, but impish, smile as she got out of the bed and headed downstairs with Casey. He took this time to quickly wash his face and brush his teeth and hair; obviously having some of the same thoughts Grace had just been having before he awoke. Pulling on a pair of shorts he dug from his overnight bag, he also headed down the stairs and walked back to the kitchen; looking for something to cook for breakfast; not wanting her to have to worry about anything like everyday chores. She still needed rest so she could heal.

It was the start of a gorgeous North Carolina day; the air cool and dry this morning; the sun beaming and warm as it rose. Her loyal pet was enjoying very much being back home; no longer seeming afraid of the house, but comfortable and behaving more like her normal self. She appeared relatively un-phased by the events of the past few days. Grace found it amazing and again she was jealous of her dog; wishing it were so simple for people, for her; though she did find herself astonishingly removed from her feelings during and directly following her harrowing ordeal. In a strange way, it was as if all of it had been nothing but a bad dream; a nightmare from which she eventually awoke; making all the fear just melt away. Whatever the explanation, it mattered little to her. All that mattered was the brand new feeling of happiness with which she was now endowed.

The only two things she had on her agenda for the day were to go to Weston and pick up her car – now that police had retrieved the keys from Michael’s pocket – and go visit her cousin in the hospital; who was no longer slumbering, but ready to begin making sense of the many facts of which she had only very recently been made aware. She could imagine how difficult the road ahead would be for Adrienne as well. All she could do was be there to support her; for she was now without parents just like Grace. It was looking more and more like Chris Devereaux would be spending the rest of his life in prison and maybe that was warranted after all. One thing was certain, also, and that was that no one in this town would ever see Caroline Deveraux again. She felt sure Adrienne wouldn’t miss her and she wouldn’t, either.

The most important subject she wished to speak with her cousin about was the question that had been most exigent in her mind since she had read about the secret that had been kept from her. The question that had the potential to be helpful to the case pending against her father; only not helpful to him or the defense, but to the prosecution. If Adrienne’s secret had anything to do with her and Genevieve getting shot, it would certainly provide motive for the heinous crime. It was driving her crazy wondering what the big secret was and in what way it involved her. She spent plenty of time trying to guess, yet came up empty. Who was the ‘He’ her cousin had described in her diary? Was it her father after all? Grace ruminated. She could not fathom who else it could be. Aurora was not a big town and the only two men she and Adrienne had in common were Jesse and her Uncle Chris. Clearly Jesse had since been ruled out by her as a man who would coerce or force anyone to do anything; such as keeping a terrible secret from his best friend or anything else hurtful or devious of which one could conceive. He had been questioned by Detective Scheffield and was cleared of any suspicion about him being involved in the shooting. Grace was assuming that his alibi must have checked out as well; so that left her uncle. It simply had to be Uncle Chris, she thought; feeling a pang of anguish for poor Adrienne and through what she would be going in the near future.

She spent a long time outside with Casey; simply enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. The freedom wasn’t bad either, she discerned. Her best friend joined the two in the back yard; already planning out the landscaping he would do if she approved; which he felt certain she would. It was just a nice morning; the beginning of a beautiful day; a day that seemed to have newfound feelings floating all around; desperate to be set free by that first moment of admission. The only question lingering was who would be the one to make the notorious ‘first move’. Obviously Jesse wasn’t going to do it or he probably would have done so by now; for she was pretty sure he had been in love with her for a long time. So she would have to make the first move; the thought of it making her nervous. She wondered if that feeling she had in the pit of her stomach was butterflies. It was a feeling she had never experienced before and she wasn’t sure yet from where it came, though she had every intention of finding out.

It was a Monday morning and Jesse had some work to catch up on, so the two ate a quick breakfast before showering and then they were on their way out the door. He drove her to Weston to pick up her car so she didn’t have to take a taxi like she had done to get home from the hospital the night before. From there he was off to work, so they said their goodbyes; him still planning to come and stay with her again that night. He didn’t want her to be alone or frightened and the truth of the matter was that he was now and had always been deeply in love with Grace; him hoping that the current living – and sleeping - arrangements would lead to something permanent, though he was terrified of broaching this subject with her. The poor man wasn’t sure how to verbalize the three simple words I love you, but desperately wanted to take that plunge before it was too late; before he lost her to someone else again. He had lost her countless times before and he didn’t want that to happen this time.

Grace drove directly to the hospital; leaving Casey back at the house to see how she tolerated spending a day there alone. She was so nervous about the conversation she was about to have with Adrienne that she was actually biting her fingernails; a habit she had broken herself of long ago that had apparently decided to resurface. She was able to locate the diary; it actually being exactly where she had left it before she was kidnapped; so she brought it with her in the hopes that it would help jog her memory. The thought of her cousin not remembering what she had meant to say in the diary entry concerned her; though her memory appeared to be mostly intact; with the exception of that dreadful morning. That at least gave her hope. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure how much more disappointment she could handle in her life. She had no idea that this was about to be put to the test in a big way. Everything she had been through since arriving in town would seem insignificant next to the information she was about to receive.

She found her cousin wide awake in her hospital bed; looking bored already and ready to get out of there and go home. They spoke briefly about what the doctor had said this morning; Adrienne telling her with a grin from ear to ear that he had informed her that once he was satisfied that the swelling in her head had gone down the rest of the way he saw no real reason to keep her there. According to her, his thoughts were that she would probably recover a lot faster at home, surrounded by familiar things. Apparently she still had no memory of the shooting – and hopefully she never would; especially if her father was the guilty one. Home represented for her the good, comfortable, familiar things in her life due to her lack of recall; not the place where her father had ended his own mother’s life before walking upstairs to try to do the same to her…to his own daughter. Grace could not imagine what she must be going through emotionally. She never knew her father and her mother wasn’t perfect, but at least she loved her; unlike Caroline, who had never really loved Adrienne at all.

Holding out for as long as she could bear, she finally had to ask her cousin the question she had wanted desperately to ask her since the moment she read it in her diary. She was at first at a loss for words; struggling to find just the right ones. In reality, it was a question her cousin didn’t have to answer if she didn’t want to do so; it being written in a book that was meant to forever remain private and only for her eyes. It had been an invasion of her cousin’s privacy and she truly hoped that she wouldn’t be angry or offended that Grace read it. Deciding it was best to simply get it over with instead of brooding about it any longer, she took a very deep breath, held it for ten seconds, hopefully blowing her nervousness out with her breath.

“Addie, I have something I need to ask you and it’s really important.” she began, “You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to, but I’m sincerely hoping you can and will answer.”

“Grace, what?” teased Adrienne until she took note of the serious expression on her face. “What is it? You know you can always ask me anything.” she reassured her cousin.

“Please don’t be angry with me, but while you were still in a coma, well…well, I was so confused by everything that had happened and I was just looking for answers anywhere I could find them.” said Grace apologetically.

“I’m not going to be angry, Grace. I promise.” she said, “You can tell me. It’s okay.”

“All right then. Here goes. When you were still in a coma I found your diary in your room; which I cannot believe the police missed when they searched the house. But, anyway, I read some of the entries to see if they possibly contained some clues as to why you were shot. And one in particular – the last one you wrote…the night before the shootings – I wanted to ask you about something you wrote. Do you remember what you wrote about?” she inquired of her.

“The secret I’ve been keeping from you…for the past ten years.” replied Adrienne; an enigmatic expression on her face.

“Yes.” she told her; tiny beads of sweat forming on her forehead out of anxiety. “Yes. I want to know the secret…if you want to tell me. If not, I won’t be angry, I swear.” she responded.

“Grace, it’s okay. I’ve wanted to tell you since the very first day. I just couldn’t.” began her cousin, “I’m so sorry for that and I hope someday you can forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to forgive, Addie. I know you would’ve told me if you could have.” she replied.

“Okay…here goes. The secret is…oh, God this is hard…the secret is that your mother did not commit suicide.” she got out; not certain what reaction she was going to get from Grace.

“Wha..what…what are you talking about, Addie?” she asked with a look of total confusion and pain crossing her face all at once as she spoke the words. “How did she…how did she die then? And how do you know that she didn’t kill herself? Are you sure?”

“I’m sure, Grace. I’m so sorry. And I know because I saw her…because I saw her get killed.” she admitted; the guilt of it all almost more than she could bear. She couldn’t stand to see the pain on her cousin’s face.

“What exactly did you see?” she inquired; somewhat afraid of hearing the answer, though she knew Adrienne would never have kept something like this from her without a damn good reason.

“It was Dad. They were in the barn at Gram’s…fighting. I don’t know what they were arguing about this time. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Then, all of a sudden…he just lost it. He grabbed her by the throat and he wouldn’t let go. He just wouldn’t let go. Aunt Vivienne was fighting like hell, but he overpowered her, then…then he…he strangled her until she passed out.” she rattled off quickly; scared she wouldn’t be able to get it out otherwise. “Then he hung her from the rafter to make it look like she killed herself.”

Grace was crying so hard that she couldn’t say anything; couldn’t respond to the life changing information she had just received. She was trying to process her feelings; having thought for the past ten years that her mother took her own life. Now finding out that it was all a horrible, inexcusable, unforgivable lie that was told in an attempt to cover up an even more unforgivable and senseless act of violence that resulted in the death of her mother, she realized that nearly her entire adult life had been based on that lie and that horrible act. She felt robbed of the life she should have had; whether she was close to her mother or not. She could have had a living parent and would have been spared years of anger and sadness; a life filled with confusion and uncertainty. Maybe her life wouldn’t have been perfect, but it certainly would have been more livable.

When she was finally able to speak, she said to her cousin, “I’m not mad at you, Addie. I know your dad and I know that he would never have let you tell me. I just feel so…so cheated of someone who could have still been in my life. Cheated of my mother. He robbed you of your life, too, you know.”

“Grace, if I said I’m sorry every day from now until the day I died, it wouldn’t be enough.” Adrienne apologized. She wished more than anything that she could take the pain away for her cousin, but knew that was impossible. “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry I lied to you.”

“I don’t blame you, honey.” she replied honestly, “I just can’t believe that he really did it. I thought there was no way he could be the one who killed Gram and tried to kill you…but now…now I’m starting to think that he is the one responsible. I guess we both have hurt to deal with, don’t we? You have to know that your own father wanted you dead just to keep his awful secret and I have to know that before he killed Gram and tried to kill you, he did manage to kill my mom.” she said; a sad look on her face; tears still staining it red – stinging as they ran into the scrapes and scratches marring her beautiful complexion.

The two cousins sat and talked for hours; both dealing with the events that had happened – in the near past and many years ago. They discussed the fact that they now felt a responsibility to hand Adrienne’s diary over to Detective Scheffield; along with an explanation of the passage’s meaning. This meant that they had to inform him that Chris Devereaux was responsible for another murder; her mother’s murder. Grace wasn’t certain whether that information would help the prosecutor with the current case or not, but knew she and her cousin had to give it a shot. If it helped, it helped. If not, at least the awful secret was out and she now knew the truth about her mother’s death; also knowing that her uncle was going to have to answer for it. It had been plaguing her for the entire ten years Vivienne Devereaux had been gone; having to wonder the whole time why – why her mother killed herself and left her already troubled daughter behind. The knowledge that it was not her choice to leave this world changed Grace completely; in the blink of an eye. Not knowing the reason that a loved one decided death was a better option than life is a hundred times harder with which to live than simply dealing with a death in the family; a death that came with answers as to why it happened. One thing of which she was certain was that – regardless of the charges pending against him now – her uncle would be spending the rest of his life behind bars anyway; no matter what the outcome of the current trial. He would get a hefty sentence for the murder of her mother, Vivienne; especially considering the circumstances – him murdering his own sister in cold blood and allowing everyone to believe she had done the terrible deed herself. It shouldn’t be a problem getting a conviction; especially with a credible eye witness. There was no way out of that one, she thought with a feeling of satisfaction. What went around…was coming back around as Karma worked its magic.    

Detective Scheffield was just finishing up the report he prepared regarding Grace’s kidnapping; this leaving him with little else to do that was pressing. He was still waiting for the results of the hair samples analysis to come back from the lab; though he wasn’t sure this would tell them anything at all that was helpful to the case against Chris Devereaux. Unfortunately, the closest lab that took on that sort of work was in Raleigh; the closest big city to them; which was still a good distance away from the little known town of Aurora. Not to mention the backlog of work they already had to be analyzed; the hair samples the detective had sent in being at the bottom of a very long list. He wasn’t aware that he was about to receive some quite damning evidence against Chris; though it was not pertinent to the present case against him. If it were admissible in court, however, it could definitely sway the jury in a direction that was not favorable to the defendant. It was strange because he was just about to pick up the phone to call Grace and see how she was coping when his phone rang; her name coming up on the caller ID.

“Hi, Grace. I just finished up the report about your kidnapping. How are you?” he asked in greeting.

“Hi, detective. I’m…okay. Definitely doing better than I thought I would this soon after being kidnapped. Probably has a lot to do with Adrienne finally waking up.” she answered; then added, “But that’s not why I’m calling.”

“What’s up? Everything okay?” he inquired; not having a clue what she could have to tell him now that everything was starting to get back to normal in her life.

“Well…it’s about my Uncle Chris, but I’m not sure whether it will help this case or not.” began Grace, “I found my cousin’s diary when I moved back into my grandmother’s house…and the last passage she wrote was about a secret her father had been forcing her to keep for the last ten years.”

“Now I’m very intrigued.” he said; hardly able to wait for her to explain.

“He…Uncle Chris…he…he killed my mother.” she stammered, “Everyone thought she committed suicide – me included – but she didn’t. He…strangled my mother and then he put a noose around her neck and…and the bastard hung my mother from one of the rafters in the barn. And he doesn’t seem to feel a speck of remorse, if you ask me.” she relayed to him; her eyes wet with tears.

“I’m speechless. I’m so sorry, Grace.” he said; trying to find the words to express how he felt about what he had just been told without making it personal; which was very hard for him – and becoming harder every day. “Well, since we already have Mr. Devereaux in custody, all we can do is tack on the extra murder charge. Do you think your cousin would testify against her own father in court?” he inquired.

“Yes. I’m almost positive. She told me what happened…so my assumption would be that she believes he should have to answer for the unthinkable thing that he did.” replied Grace. “Do you want me to ask her?”

“No I’ll take care of that. I mean…you certainly can if you want to.” the detective said.

“I‘ll ask her as well, so if she says no I can try to change her mind; though I don’t think that’s going to happen. And I can let her know you will be getting in touch with her if you want.” she answered.

“Sounds like a plan.” he responded.

Then they said their goodbyes and hung up. Grace was in a daze; not knowing how to feel about anything anymore. Every time she began to believe things were finally getting back to normal and all of the bad things were slowly becoming things of the past, some other demons would come calling bearing bad news; intending to do whatever they could to ruin her already tumultuous life. It was not the typical bad things, either, such as losing a job or getting an eviction notice. These paled in comparison to what she had to find a way to accept and live with her entire life. She had naively assumed that Michael’s kidnapping her surely must be the end of an unbelievably bad string of occurrences. Again she was wrong. If she had to choose which event negatively affected her – hurt her emotionally - the worst, it would be having to live for ten years believing that her mother had chosen to leave this earth; believing that she hadn’t given leaving her daughter a second thought. Thinking Vivienne had not cared enough about her to stick around had changed her life in ways from which she would plausibly never recover; caused her to give up whatever dreams she had for her future because she no longer felt worthy – having the mother she had do something that her daughter would never live down in a small town. People still gossiped about the suicide; even ten years after the fact. Many of the townspeople avoided her and whispered things about Grace when she was seen in town; as if suicide were contagious. All of it changed the person she was meant to be into a depressed, unconfident woman who didn’t believe in herself enough to be whom she truly was.

Every bad thing that had happened since she arrived in Aurora she thought at the time had to be the worst thing – the last thing – that could possibly occur. Then someone would drop another bomb and she would be proven wrong. She couldn’t help but wonder what was coming next; now believing that there would be no end to her string of bad luck, or whatever it was. That morning she had been on cloud nine; thinking there was a good chance she had been with the love of her life since she was a kid and regrettably hadn’t noticed until now; though it was definitely not too late for the two of them to take a chance and find out if their being together was truly meant to be…was fate. She had always been a believer in fate; believing in the concept of the existence of a master plan for the universe; a plan that delivered to people the knowledge of their individual destinies exactly when they needed to know and not before. Of course this made for a world full of seemingly perpetually confused people before the deliverance of their ‘awakenings’. This time the receipt of bad news made her want to stick around instead of run like she typically did when things weren’t going her way. This time she planned to ride it out and see what happened. She was tired of running and simply couldn’t do it anymore.

From the police station Grace went home to start dinner; knowing that Jesse would be home from work soon. Actually cooking was more an attempt to busy herself to keep her mother and the whole situation off her mind for the time being. Also, she was curious to see how things played out between the two of them; getting butterflies in her stomach thinking about him and her newfound attraction to her best friend. She intended to make this dinner a romantic, candlelit dinner and see if he made that first move; though she still believed she was going to have to do that.

Jesse arrived at her house just as she was putting the final touches on her attempt at a romantic dinner. She wanted to tell him of the decade long kept secret she had been told that day by Adrienne, but thought it would be better to try to get through dinner first; afraid that – knowing that – she would start crying and wouldn’t be able to enjoy the delicious meal she had prepared for the two of them. So she sucked it up and put a smile on her face as he walked into the kitchen; where he could tell she had been hard at work; chuckling quietly about the mess she had created. Typical Grace, he thought; feeling even more love for her at this moment; realizing that she was doing things she did not normally do. He actually wondered at this point if she were doing all of this in an attempt to impress him; show him that she, also, was feeling a different love for him than she had felt as his best friend for all those years. He knew that he wanted to find out if it was so.

To her pleasant surprise, she got through dinner fine; successfully suppressing the urge to blurt out what she now knew about her mother…and her uncle. They made small talk about his work and Adrienne’s finally returning to them – almost as good as new. Grace was seeing her lifelong best friend in a completely different light; really noticing for the first time how handsome he truly was; feeling a chemical attraction to him that she hadn’t known existed within her. She thought perhaps it had simply lay dormant for all her post-pubescent years; making its presence known when destiny decided it should. Believing that everything happened for a reason, she deduced that it wasn’t supposed to happen years ago. It was destined to happen now…and it certainly was beginning to blossom within her.

After dinner, Jesse went to clear the dishes off the table, but Grace stopped him; telling him they would keep. She told him she had another life altering tale to tell; him clearly intrigued by the look of ‘Oh, no not again” on his suntanned face. It was quite a difficult story to relay; her doing her best to get as many words out as she could between sobs. Despite her difficulty, she managed to tell him everything. She told him of how betrayed she felt; not by her cousin, whom she knew was forced to keep it from her, but by her own uncle. She loathed him and couldn’t believe that it was her own flesh and blood who had taken her mother from her; seemingly without a shred of remorse. Christopher Devereaux was born an evil person; his true destiny revealing itself to him now, she thought; now as he sat in a cold, hard, concrete cell; his only knowledge of the outside world coming from a television or the tiny window through which he could see a little grass and a few trees, but not much else.

Grace couldn’t stop crying so Jesse put his arm around her as they sat on the living room sofa talking. His hand gently caressed her shoulder as she talked and when she finally came up for air, using his other hand to delicately wipe the tears from her face with his fingers; this gentle act causing something to stir in her; a feeling she had never known having toward her best friend before now. He put his hand under her chin and tenderly raised her lowered face; her sapphire blue eyes meeting his hazel ones; her seeing a passion in his stare that she had never noticed before; wondering if he saw the same in hers because at this moment she was feeling something she had never felt; not in her entire life.

Jesse noticed the intensity in her eyes and took her face gently in his hands and leaned in; his lips at first only lightly brushing against her soft, full lips; tentative in the beginning. She responded with a fierceness he had not expected; kissing him back deeply; her tongue exploring his sexy mouth without reservation. He reciprocated; kissing her like no man ever had; with a passion he didn’t know existed within him. He had waited for this moment for so long; feeling a love for her that he had felt since they hit puberty, but the picture he had in his mind couldn’t compare to what he was feeling right now.

Without warning, he scooped her up in his strong arms and carried her upstairs to her bedroom; laying her down on the bed and stretching out beside her; kissing her more deeply than he had downstairs; any inhibitions he had before melting away with the heat of his desire for her. His hands began to roam her perfectly toned, incredibly sexy body and hers began to do the same on his well-chiseled one; running her fingers lightly across his skin at first; tentative as well, though this quickly dissipated as her lust for him increased and she explored his muscular body with no inhibition. She was not thinking now – only feeling – and she wanted this to happen so badly now that nothing else mattered at this very moment; not even her murderous uncle.

He started to peel off her clothes and got absolutely no resistance from her, as she was doing the same with his. She had not imagined this, but after that first kiss she felt no awkwardness like she thought she probably would in such a situation. It felt like the most natural thing in the world and – though she was not thinking about it right now – she would come to the realization that her best friend was no longer simply her best friend. He was the love she would believe was her destiny. Now she was enjoying very much the turn of events; putting into it every ounce of lustful energy she never knew she possessed.

They made love passionately for hours; neither thinking about a single, terrible thing that had happened over the last week and a half; only exploring each other’s bodies with their hands and their lips and tongues. Jesse was ecstatic that his dream had come to fruition after all those years of having to love her from afar. He much preferred loving her with no distance between them; their bodies intertwined as one the way he felt in his heart they were meant to be; as they were now…hot and sweaty and finally satiated.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chapter 15

Chapter Fifteen


Grace finally heard the car’s engine coming down the road; getting louder as it came closer. She again grabbed Casey by the collar and the two of them ducked down behind another tree; waiting to make sure it wasn’t Michael coming for her. When she saw the police car come around the corner, with another car following close behind, the relief she felt was indescribable. With the last little bit of energy she had left, she walked out onto the road and waved down the police car; the other car pulling off to the side of the road and parking as well. As soon as they rolled to a stop, she dropped to her knees right on the road; all the fear and exhaustion she had been feeling coming to a head.

The Weston deputy got out of his car and walked over to her, but it wasn’t until she saw Detective Scheffield step out of the other car that she just let go of everything she had been feeling and began to cry uncontrollably. The detective ran over to her; picking her up off the road and putting his arms around her; not knowing what else to do to comfort her. It was obvious that she had been through an ordeal; though what he was imagining didn’t come close to the truth when she finally got around to telling it. The two stood in one spot for a while until she was able to speak through sobs; spilling her guts right where they stood and telling him everything. All he could do was hold her and listen to her astonishing story.

The detective explained the situation the best he could to the Weston deputy; the poor fellow wearing a look the entire time that said that he had never in his life been involved in something so unbelievable. One would think that a deputy in a small town such as this would get excited about playing a role in a soap opera like the one unfolding before him, but he looked like he would rather be anywhere than where he was right now. Detective Scheffield had just blown his mind and it showed on the small town officer’s face. He thanked the detective profusely when he told him that he could handle it from here and wasted no time in climbing back into his car and heading back to the safety of the sheriff’s office; though he wouldn’t be there for long. He had to turn around and go right back out to look for Michael.

The detective helped Grace to the car; actually picking her up and carrying her the last ten feet or so when he realized how unsteady on her feet she was. Grabbing a cold bottle of water from a cooler in the trunk, he handed it to her as she sunk down on the front seat of his car; completely spent and so relieved to be safe that she just sat there and cried; hugging her dog, who had starting wagging her nub of a tail furiously when she saw the detective’s familiar face and noticed the tension in Grace melt away the moment she saw him. Casey was ushered into the backseat when he could break the two up and he closed the passenger side door; ready to take her home again. He could get an official statement from her once she had been seen by a doctor to make sure there was nothing more seriously wrong than possible heat exhaustion and dehydration; and to tend to the numerous scrapes and scratches she had acquired during her daring escape. He couldn’t help but think that she would still be out there – hunted – if he hadn’t asked the Weston deputy to show him where her car had been found. He was beginning to believe in fate for the first time in his life. What other explanation was there? he asked himself.

The ride back to Aurora wasn’t very long; though she wouldn’t have cared how long it was, honestly. She was finally allowing herself to feel all the emotions that she had shut down the previous day in order to survive the harrowing experience. Now she was ready to begin exploring the reality of what had happened; what Michael had really done and why he had done it. She was aware that she may never get all the answers to the multitude of questions she had, but she thought she deserved an explanation for what he had put her through and she wanted it. All she could do was stay safe and wait for Michael to be found by the police. He couldn’t have gotten that far on foot, she thought; so he had to still be in the area.

The Weston police now faced the problem of having a fugitive lurking somewhere in or around their town; having to call in the state police as well because the small sheriff’s office was not equipped to deal with this sort of situation; just like what happened in Aurora when Genevieve and Adrienne were shot. Detective Scheffield dispatched as many of his own officers as could be spared to drive to the other town and aid in the search. He knew that it was out of their jurisdiction and no one from Aurora could make the official arrest, but that mattered little. Everyone from the two towns were willing to work together to combat this problem; each one realizing the importance of finding this guy. He was clearly capable of breaking the law without a second thought, so bringing him to justice was first and foremost in their minds. They were all equally determined not to let Michael Stranahan slip through their fingers.

When Grace arrived at the hospital she was more interested in seeing her cousin than being checked out by a doctor herself, but the doctor and nurses convinced her that it wouldn’t take long to look her over. She desperately needed fluids – being dangerously dehydrated due to the heat and her physical exertion, however there wasn’t really anything more that concerned them other than cleaning her wounds and bandaging the deeper cuts she had received in the woods. She actually fell right to sleep when the nurse put in the IV and got the fluids started; exhausted beyond belief. Of all the things that she had been through in her life, she didn’t ever remember feeling as tired as she felt when her head hit the pillow on the hospital bed. Her visit with Adrienne could certainly wait long enough for her to get some sleep. Neither of the women would be leaving the hospital that night.

She slept soundly for hours; this time not plagued by any dreams at all. There were no cryptic messages she was supposed to be receiving right now; all she had to do was rest and recover from the terrifying experience through which she had just been. Adrienne’s condition was improving every day, too. Her cousin hadn’t seen her for a couple of days; didn’t see the constant fluttering of her eyelids as her brain worked while she slept or the way she had been moving her arms and legs. Every report from her doctor was better than the last. In fact, her doctor’s prognosis now was that she could probably live a full life with the bullet still in her head; she would simply have to be careful not to engage in any activities that would pose a threat to her; which left her plenty of leeway. His professional opinion was that if there were no obvious signs of brain damage when she awoke, she could plausibly make a full recovery.

The first face Grace saw when she opened her eyes was Jesse’s concerned face. Detective Scheffield had kept his promise and called him the moment they arrived at the hospital. He had done his best to explain what had happened; for Jesse knew nothing of the torment she had endured or who had inflicted it upon her. The detective left out the specifics; leaving that conversation for her out of respect for the fact that she might not want him to know every sordid detail of her ordeal.  Still, when he found out, he was so angry he wanted to go find Michael Stranahan himself and deal with the situation differently than the police were planning to handle it, but at the last minute stopped himself; thinking that his time would be more well spent being there for her and helping in any way that he could.

The police from both towns were already hard on the case of catching the perpetrator anyway. It was two small towns, neither of whom were accustomed to dealing with criminals of this caliber. Aside from the suicide of Grace’s mother years ago, the worst thing the officers normally faced was clearing the streets of people who were drunk in public and solving domestic squabbles; things of that nature. They were not used to things like Genevieve’s murder – like people getting shot at all – or having a sociopath lurking in their towns; kidnapping innocent women at gunpoint.

Still the situation had to be dealt with; whether it was comfortable for them or not. Ten officers from Aurora and the state police as well as every deputy in Weston headed into the woods; each man vowing to find Michael Stranahan and bring him to justice. It was another scorcher of a day, but at least they were all equipped with plenty of water; something Grace had not had during her dash for freedom. They all lined up at the tree line and each began walking forward into the forest slowly; looking at the trees and on the ground for any signs that he had crossed the respective spots at any point in his chase.

She had told Detective Scheffield that she was certain the car had been parked close to the beach because it didn’t take her long to reach the water. It had taken her longer to make it from the water to the tiny cave in which she had spent a sleepless night and from the cave to the road on which she was found wandering the following day; looking for help anywhere she could find it. It was from that point – on the road where she had been found – forward that the police began searching. Though this was not an average assignment for any of them, they were all extremely thorough in their search of the land. They were determined to find him in those woods, that day; whatever was necessary to get that job done being precisely what they planned to do.

Walking at a snail’s pace, they all checked for footprints, broken twigs on the ground, disturbed branches on the many trees, or any other clue that told them someone had been there. Of course there were many sets of footprints along the roadway, but those quickly died off as they walked further into the trees; only finding disturbed earth due to animal paw prints, not human footprints. This was no deterrent, though. No one was discouraged at the lack of evidence that was being found; only determined to find the evidence they were positive existed in those woods. It had been quiet so far; until Weston Deputy Sam Mitchell called out, excitedly, “I think I got something here, guys!”

The sheriff of the small town, John Jacobs, walked over to where he was standing; along with several other officers; all of which were careful not to disturb any potential clue or clues on the ground around them. Sheriff Jacobs knelt down to inspect more closely the footprints his deputy had found. The footprints left in the soft earth clearly belonged to a man. They were very large; certainly much too big to belong to any woman – much less Grace and her petite frame. There were a set of prints facing the road ahead, so if they were made by Michael he had gotten very close to catching her again. It was only luck that she had been rescued in time.

Then the set of prints turned and started to walk in the opposite direction; away from town and toward the water. So they followed them until they began to fade out where the ground was dry and much harder. Not really sure where to go from there, they decided to split up once more and so each walked in a different direction. Deputy Mitchell was the one officer who kept walking in the direction the prints had been heading. Every so often, it was obvious that the ground had been traversed. There were lighter prints and actually a fairly large snapped branch on the ground that would have had to have been stepped on by something heavy; heavier than any animal walking around out there. It wasn’t a whole lot to go on, but it was something, thought the inexperienced deputy.

So he just kept going in the same direction; trying to keep in as straight a line as possible. Eventually he began to hear the splash of the water as the waves broke and knew he was almost to the beach. He didn’t know it before he got there, but it was the same beach Grace had described coming upon the first day. He was alone at this point; everyone having gone in different directions to cover more ground faster. As he got closer, he could make out some sort of figure lying on the sand; water lapping at one end of whatever it was. He pulled out his radio; ready to call for backup if needed, though the figure did not appear to be moving at all.

The young officer finally made it to the end of the trees and the beginning of the sand; able to tell at this point that the figure lying on the beach was definitely a person. He got on the radio and called for help from more officers; not sure yet with what they were dealing. Then he sped up his pace a little; calling out to the motionless person as he came.

“Police! Don’t move!” he yelled as he drew his gun from its holster on his side; getting no response at all; no movement or voice calling back to him.

“Police!” he called out again; though he knew that wasn’t really necessary by the time he got within about six feet or so of the body…the dead body.

He got back on the radio to let them know he was all right; that there was no need to hurry because the person he had found was clearly dead. Thinking about it, he wasn’t happy he told them to take their time; not wanting to be alone with a dead body for very long. The cause of death was obvious in this case. It didn’t take a medical examiner to tell Deputy Mitchell that the man had been shot in the temple and been killed instantly. One didn’t need a degree to decipher this one, either; that the man had most likely died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. There was no sign of a struggle anywhere around. It was clear he had been the only person on the beach at the time of his death.

It didn’t take long for the other officers to arrive; most of them hanging back a little so they wouldn’t have to see the body that closely. The Weston sheriff took it upon himself to check for a pulse; placing two fingers on his neck over the carotid artery. There was clearly no blood flowing through the man’s veins and his body temperature was cool compared to the rising temperature outside; telling the sheriff that he had been dead for at least a few hours. If the footprints near the road belonged to this man – and this man turned out to be Michael – then he did get frighteningly close to catching Grace. The prints were only a thousand feet or so from where Deputy Mitchell and Detective Scheffield had pulled over to pick her up.

After calling for the medical examiner to come retrieve the body, Weston Sheriff John Jacobs gave Detective Scheffield a call to inform him of their discovery; certain that the news would please him. It appeared to be an open-and-shut case of suicide and it wasn’t hard to imagine what his reasons were for doing it. He had obviously not found Grace after she ran from the car the day before; her being safe and sound in the hospital; with an officer planted right outside her door just in case. Perhaps he saw her being picked up by the police and knew that he was out of options; particularly if he had gone back to find the car at any point and noticed that missing as well. There was no suicide note, so the explanation for his actions would forever remain a secret. It would be left up to one’s imagination to figure it out – as best one could with such limited information.

Detective Scheffield was quite happy to hear the news. Though the body had not been officially identified, everyone felt sure that it was Michael Stranahan. It certainly sounded like him from the description he had been given by Sheriff Jacobs; sounding almost identical to the one Grace had given him when she was found. Now he was on his way to the hospital to deliver the news to her in person. He felt that she deserved that after what she had endured. He was sure she wouldn’t really be happy about it; being the kind and gentle person that she was; a person that didn’t want anyone hurt or killed if possible. The detective thought, at the very least, it would allow her to sleep more soundly when she did return home; home being the place from which she was kidnapped.

He told the officer standing post outside her hospital room that he was free to get back to his day; this pleasing the man who wore a very bored expression on his face. Walking through the door; he found Grace wide awake talking to Jesse; even smiling up at him when she saw him walk in. He turned to Jesse and gave him a nod in greeting; Jesse nodding back at him. Then he broke the bittersweet news to her.

“How are you feeling, Grace?” he asked; genuinely interested in hearing the answer.

“I feel okay. Tired but good.” she answered. “What brings you here, detective?”

“I have some news about Michael Stranahan.” he began; Grace and Jesse both leaning in waiting for the next sentence to come out of his mouth. “We found him on the beach; probably the same one you described to me.”

“And?...” she prodded.

“He’s dead, Grace. It looks like a suicide – gunshot wound to the left temple. Was he left-handed?” he inquired of her.

“Yes…yes, he was left-handed. Why do you ask?” she replied.

“He was shot in the left temple, so he would have had to shoot himself with his left hand.” explained the detective.

“Oh. Okay…thank you, detective. Thanks for letting me know.” she said; wearing a perplexed look on her pretty but scratched face. She couldn’t help but think about the fact that the answers she wanted died along with him.

“Well, I thought you deserved to know. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.” he responded; turning and nodding to Jesse again before saying his goodbyes to her and walking out of the room.

Grace and Jesse simply turned and looked at each other; amazed by the news they had just received. He was happy on the inside; having had the desire to take care of Michael Stranahan himself, but he kept that to himself. He knew what kind of person she was and it wasn’t the type that enjoyed hearing of others’ misery. In her heart, she didn’t want anything bad to happen to him – aside from being arrested and jailed for kidnapping her. She had never once wished him dead; only for him to leave her alone. So he allowed her to grieve without commenting on it. He felt it was best to let her handle things her own way; which was sometimes a very different way than others did. But Grace had always done things just a little bit differently. He was okay with that; it made her who she was today.

She took the news of his suicide hard; though she did her best to try to hide that from her best friend. Of course she was disappointed because she desperately wanted to know why he had done this to her, but in some strange way his death saddened her. She just kept thinking, what a waste. What a waste of a smart and talented man; a kind man, she had believed. He had always been kind to her; up until the night he broke into her house, intending to take her with him when he left. Never would she have conceived of him doing anything like what he had done; tying her up and putting her in the trunk of her car; despite his intimate knowledge of her severe claustrophobia. She would never have pictured him traipsing through the woods at night with a gun – hunting her, but he did. He did all those things and she would simply have to come to terms with that somehow. She had no choice but to live with the aftermath of his actions.

Grace slept quite soundly that night; despite the news about Michael’s suicide upsetting her. It was confusing for her, though, because she now realized that her decision to leave him had been a good one; yet she couldn’t help but think that if she had never left him, none of this would have happened and he would still be alive. Still, she slept; the exhaustion taking precedence over her emotions. She awoke to a different day the next morning – and the first thing she wanted to do was visit her cousin; still in a coma due to the bullet taking up residence in her head.

She couldn’t believe how much better she looked in just the span of a couple days. Her cheeks were once again flushed with color; along with her full lips which were nearly blood red on their own. The crude bandages wrapped around her head had been removed and only a small one remained; covering only the point of entry of the slug. She laughed a little out loud when she imagined how unhappy Adrienne would be when she woke up and discovered that they had shaved off a patch of her beautiful, long, black hair. It was so thick that no one would even be able to notice, she thought to herself. That would truly be the least of her cousin’s worries when she finally did rejoin the waking world. There was so much more than that that she was going to have to find a way with which to live.

It did Grace’s heart good to see Adrienne looking more and more like her Addie every day. She desperately needed her back in her life right now. There were so many things she wanted to tell her when she woke up she was about to burst holding it in. She was telling her now what had just happened to her; all about Michael and what he put her through; when Adrienne squeezed her hand…hard. So excited she wasn’t sure what to do, she asked her cousin if she could hear her and told her again to squeeze her hand once for yes and twice for no…and she squeezed it hard again one time; Adrienne’s way of telling her that, yes, she heard every word. Part of her wanted to go find the doctor and tell him what she did, but she remembered what he had told her the last time she did that; that they simply weren’t sure if it was a deliberate action or an involuntary response to stimuli. She knew, though. She knew her cousin was trying to find her way back from wherever she had been since that terrible Saturday morning.

She sat by her cousin’s side for a long time; talking to her and asking her questions; actually getting a reaction to nearly every question. Adrienne would either squeeze her hand once or twice when asked something or move her entire arm a bit when she could. Grace also noticed almost constant movement in both legs; not exactly kicking, but definitely not sitting still. All of these things were giving her hope for her cousin’s recovery, but also making her impatient for that to happen. She wished more than anything to have her back in her life; for the two of them to start a brand new life together at their house – Devereaux Downs. It was to happen sooner than she thought.

It was getting late and she was still tired and sore from her ordeal, so she decided it was time to go home. The hospital had discharged her before she even went to visit Adrienne; she was free to go at any time. The one thing she did know was that – despite her captor no longer posing a threat – she was not going to stay at that big house alone for the first few nights. She could already imagine the nightmares she probably faced and didn’t want to wake up alone and scared. Jesse would again be staying with her; him of course not having any problem with that at all. Honestly, he would probably move in with her permanently if she asked him to do so.

About to leave her cousin for the night, she leaned down to give her a kiss on her pretty cheek. As she was raising her head, she heard something; a weak whisper or a moan coming from her cousin. Not sure what she had heard, she leaned in close and called her name; again hearing some sort of mumbling noise come from her mouth. She studied her face carefully; her cousin’s eyelids fluttering as she struggled in an attempt to open them. Grace called her name again and again she mumbled something indiscernible. Only this time, her eyelids fluttered and then…she opened her eyes slowly for the first time in a week. Grace watched as she blinked several times; trying to focus on her and on her surroundings; clearly confused by what she saw; everything but her cousin. She blinked her eyes more; finally looking directly at her.

“Grace?” she asked in a soft, weak voice.

“Oh God, Addie! You’re awake! You’re really awake!” she exclaimed; tears of happiness pouring from her eyes and running down her cheeks; dripping from her beautiful face onto the bed in which her cousin laid.

“Grace? What Happened…? Why am I here?” she inquired with a tone of total confusion; Grace wondering how much she remembered of what had happened – if anything.

Her cousin’s hand went to touch the bandage on the back of her head; obviously feeling the pain of her injury and wondering what happened. “Oh, Addie no. Don’t touch it.” she told her; taking her hand in her own. “You’re in the hospital. You were shot. Do you remember anything?” she asked, “Do you remember who shot you?”

“Shot…? I was shot in the head? I…I don’t…don’t remember anything. I went to sleep last night and that’s all I know.” she stumbled through; clearly thinking that she had only been asleep for one night.

“Yes…you were shot. I don’t know who did it, but I have something to tell you about the situation.” Grace began; not looking forward to having to tell her that her father was in custody and charged with the crime. “The police have arrested your dad for it. It was his .38 that was used to shoot you, so they think he’s the one who did it.”

“Wha…w…what?” she asked; tears welling up in her sparkling green eyes at the thought of her own father being responsible for shooting her…for trying to kill her essentially.

“I’m so sorry, honey.” she told her soothingly; beginning to cry herself. “Unfortunately, I haven’t told you the worst part.”

“It gets worse?” she inquired with wide eyes. It was a lot to take in when she had been asleep for a week and had no memory of it herself.  

“Well…y..yeah. It does. First of all, you’ve been in a coma for the last week; not simply asleep for a night. I was so scared you would never come back to me, Addie.” she sobbed; happy tears choking her up. “But that’s not it, either. Whoever shot you – whether it was Uncle Chris or not – shot Gram, too.”

“He shot Gram? Where is she? Is she okay?” Adrienne demanded; completely appalled at the thought of someone hurting her grandmother.

“No…I’m sorry, Addie. Gram didn’t make it…” she was barely able to get out through tears.

“She’s dead?” she cried. “Gram’s gone?”

Grace couldn’t even answer her; her having to tell her cousin about their grandmother being gone was more than she could handle right now; with everything else she had been through since that fateful morning. The two cousins just held each other and cried for a while; mourning her passing. Adrienne hadn’t had any time to adjust to it yet; it was all as new as if it had happened only yesterday. Everything was new to her. Not only did she have to come to terms with living with a bullet in her head; she had to contend with her own father being the culprit, her grandmother being dead, and Caroline taking off as soon as Chris was arrested. At this point, she was truly alone in the world; alone except for Grace; whom she would need very much to help her cope with everything.

Grace finally broke away from her; letting her know that she was going to go find the doctor to let him know his patient had awakened from her week-long coma. It was amazing that all her faculties seemed to have remained intact; despite being shot in the head. The doctor entered the room with a smile on his face; truly pleased to see her awake. He performed all the normal tests; taking her blood pressure and checking all vital signs; which were all surprisingly very good. The only thing he could find wrong with her at this point was that the swelling still had to come down all the way before she was totally out of the woods and of course the wound itself still had some healing to do; though she was lucky, he said, that she had slept through the worst of the pain.

Grace had stepped outside the room to give Jesse a quick call and tell him the wonderful news about Adrienne, “Oh my God, Jesse. She’s awake!” she almost yelled into the phone, “She woke up! Addie woke up!”

“Grace, that’s fantastic!” he beamed, “Is…is she okay? Does she remember anything?”

“Yes. She’s better than okay!” Grace exclaimed, “She doesn’t remember anything after going to bed that night, but other than that, she’s great. The doctor said there was no lasting brain damage; nothing at all. Addie’s going to be fine. I know it.”

“I’m so happy for you, Grace. Really. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve prayed for this day and its here.” he said, adding, “Does she know who shot her?” his brow furrowing as he asked this question.

“No. She said she doesn’t know who did it. Either she saw and completely blocked it out or she was sleeping and never saw it coming.” she answered; shivering at the thought of being shot as she slept - or worse – seeing it coming; seeing who was about to put a bullet in her head.

“It’s probably better that way, if you think about it.” he began, asking “Would you want to know who wanted you dead? Especially if it was your father?”

“Well, with my father I wouldn’t even know.” she said in a sarcastic tone, “I don’t even know what the man looks like, so it would all be the same to me.”

He realized the error of his question and apologized to her; thinking that might have set him off, too. She was all right, though; not angry with him for asking; only hating her father for taking off before she was born. Jesse quickly changed the subject; telling her that he still had to pack a bag, but that he was definitely meeting her at ‘Devereaux Downs’ in a few hours; there to stay the night on the living room sofa; or so he thought. It was already late, so he told her he would pick up some take-out for dinner so neither one had to worry about cooking. He knew she was still very tired from the horrible experience through which she had just lived; as well as the things with which she was already dealing before the kidnapping. The kidnapping was just icing on the awful cake of Grace’s recent experiences.

She was genuinely happy to find him there waiting – hot food in hand – when she was finally able to pull herself away from her cousin and make her way home. Still nervous when she put the key in the door to unlock it, she just shook off the feeling and pushed open the blood red door to her home. There was still a lot of work to be done, she thought; looking all around her when she walked in the front door, but she had faith in Jesse being a big help to her with those projects. A couple coats of paint – inside and out – would do wonders for the place, he thought; looking around as well; seeing all the things he knew he would be the one to fix.

Grace was happy to be home again and ecstatic about Adrienne’s waking up, but there was still one question burning in her mind; what was the secret she wrote about in her diary? And how much would that tell them? Would they have a new murder suspect after her explanation of the diary entry? she wondered; dying to know. She thought her cousin had had enough for one day with handling all the information she had just been given, so she was waiting for tomorrow to ask her that question; though that would probably lead to a sleepless night for her; wishing for that answer more than anything. She wanted to be able to actually show her the diary itself, if that was possible, thinking she would be more likely to remember its meaning if she saw it written in her own hand.

She and Jesse ate their dinner in the living room – in front of the television – both of them wishing to be distracted from all of their thoughts. They talked for a little while and both were ready to go to bed when the conversation stopped. He followed her up the stairs, but only to retrieve a pillow and blanket from the linen closet in the hallway outside the bathroom. To his astonishment, when Grace came out of the bathroom, she asked him if he would sleep in her room with her…just for the night. Of course he said yes; thinking that the last time they had slept in a room together they were little kids. At first, he went to settle down for the night in the big chair by the window, but she said that every time she closed her eyes she saw Michael sleeping there. So she asked him to sleep in the bed with her; to which he readily agreed; Casey, who he had cared for while she was in the hospital the previous night, lying right between them at the foot of the big bed. One big happy family, he thought.