***Chapter One***
Word Count: 2,596

June 1992

Wayne let out a low whistle when they turned into the neighborhood of their last task of the day.

"Not a bad way to end the day," Wayne said.

"I guess," John said. Of course, they were there to investigate a crime, so John wasn't sure the friend of their victim would appreciate the sentiment.

They pulled onto the driveway of the house in question and got out. John looked around the immediate surroundings. Wayne did, too, but John always felt his partner was scoping things out rather than looking for potential clues or information.

They were only here to interview the victim's friend. She'd been beaten unconscious and had apparently only just today realized something worse had befallen her friend. Her friend hadn't been so lucky as to just be beaten, though.

"Let's get this over with," John said.

He knocked, using the fancy door knocker that was about at his eye level on the front door. He spotted the doorbell off to the right too late, giving them a minute to answer the door before trying that instead. The house was big enough it would take them that long to get to the door if they weren't right there.

They hadn't even been aware of a potential witness until she'd called in after reading a story about her friend's rape in the local newspaper. The police were stymied so had decided to run an article in the paper asking for any tips or people who might have been in the vicinity of where the victim had been found the night of the incident to come forward.

Neither detective was too sure about this errand, but their sergeant demanded they check it out. It was one of few legitimate potential leads they had as the victim couldn't seem to remember anything about the entire day of her attack.

She'd taken quite a beating, so that wasn't altogether unusual. They just hoped she'd remember eventually. Rape cases were hard to get a guilty verdict on as it was, it always seemed as though the state had to prove the victim hadn't done anything wrong rather than that her attacker had done something wrong. If the woman couldn't even identify her attacker, it made it even more of a challenge.

John hadn't wanted to come here for another reason beyond thinking that it was a possible wild goose chase. He hadn't set foot in Shermer, Illinois in six years and doing it today was way too soon as far as John Bender was concerned since he swore he never would again.

A woman he thought maybe looked familiar answered the door.

"You're late," she said. "I had to put off giving her her pain medication because she insisted on talking to you today."

"We're sorry, ma'am," John replied. "We got caught in traffic." It was four o'clock in the afternoon. What did she expect?

"Well, come in then," she said, letting them in.

"Thank you, ma'am," Wayne said.

They followed her upstairs to a bedroom. She left the overhead light off, turning a bedside lamp on instead. The room was nice as bedrooms went, though it didn't really look lived in.

"The police are here, Claire," the woman said, adjusting the bedding around her.

"Thanks, Mom," she said. John frowned a bit. He knew that voice. What were the odds? He supposed he should have asked Wayne for more details when his partner mentioned they were headed to Shermer.

He suddenly found himself very relieved the same thing that happened to her friend Sophie had not happened to her, too. Not that he'd ever say that aloud – while on duty anyway. He was pretty sure, though, that if someone, anyone had done to Claire what had been done to Sophie he'd be the next one on trial.

"Would you two like coffee?" her mother offered.

"No, thank you, ma'am," Wayne said. John didn't answer, debating on how to handle this. They hadn't spoken much after he broke up with her just before prom their senior year. He'd said some pretty callous things in an attempt to push her away from him and his poisonous life when she started talking plans for the summer and beyond.

"I'm sorry, what?" she said.

"You heard me, Claire, I know you did. This just isn't going to work."

"Why not?" she frowned. She genuinely seemed confused.

"Christ, why do you think?"

"John," she said.

"Come on, you know I don't want to be tied down. You're talking about plans as if I have no one else to hang out with. There are more people in my life than just you, Claire."

"What?" She looked thoroughly confused now. Rightfully so, as he hadn't so much as looked at another girl since that day in March.

"Come on," he said again. "Like I want to do any of these things you've been talking about. Going to the beach with you and your friends? Barbeques with those same friends? Fireworks. No, thanks."

"But they're fun!"

"Sure, for you. Or for the guys who are with girls who aren't frigid as hell."

"You're the one who said no that day!"

"Sure, I did, because losing your virginity at school is just wrong, even I know that. Believe me, if I'd known that was going to be the only chance I'd have at getting you out of your skirt I wouldn't have said no."

"But prom…"

"Yeah, no interest in being the queen's sidekick. Find someone else to look good standing next to you."

"I bought tickets."

"I'm sure you can find someone."

"I want to go with you."

"I don't want to go with you. The payoff isn't worth it. Anyway, I've got to go."

"John, come on, talk to me. What is wrong with you?"

"Nothing is wrong with me. I'm just being honest for the first time in over a month with you and myself. Bye, Claire."

Over eight years later and he still remembered the tears in her eyes as he left as if it was yesterday. He'd never broken someone's heart before, not really. He'd broken a piece of his own heart that day, too, but she had no idea that was the case. He'd driven home his 'I don't want to be tied down" speech by being seen with someone new every day.

She'd gone to prom, of course. They'd graduated. He'd wallowed in self-pity for a while during the summer, much rather preferring to be with her than stuck at home. She'd gone on to her Big Ten college (University of Minnesota he learned recently) as planned and fallen off his radar until about six months ago when she'd crept up on everyone's radar. Someone wore one of her designs to the GRAMMY Awards. The gown had been a hit, pictured on every magazine cover afterward for a few weeks.

He'd known she was good, of course. So, to see her become successful wasn't surprising in the least. It was the reason he'd pushed her away. He had no doubt she was – at least potentially – the one for him, but he also knew he'd do nothing but bring her down. It was in his nature to do that to anything good around him.

"Miss Standish," Wayne said, approaching the bed. "I'm Detective Todd. This is my partner, Detective Bender. You called saying you had information regarding an open case we're investigating."

She frowned, looking directly at him. If he could've left the room without arousing his partner's suspicions he would have. Then, finally getting a look at her, maybe he wouldn't have. He couldn't see any visible cuts, but she'd been worked over pretty good.

"Yes," she said. Apparently, she wasn't going to acknowledge him. He couldn't blame her, he supposed he was the last person she ever expected to see in her bedroom. He'd certainly thought about being in her bedroom years ago, but never under these circumstances.

The look on her face when he'd shown up at prom with someone else – someone whose name he honestly couldn't even recall because he'd gone out with so many the last few weeks of school in an attempt to forget about her. The girl hadn't even been a senior, he remembered that much. She'd been crushed. He didn't have to be a people person to know that. He felt he'd had to do it, though. The final nail in the coffin as it were, any chance she might accept an apology and take him back for a second chance flew out the window that night.

"I didn't know anything had happened to Sophie or I would have called sooner."

"It's all right, Miss Standish, you've clearly had your hands full recovering."

Wayne seemed to want to take point on this interview and John didn't mind one bit. Of course, it gave him the chance to take in her bedroom. She didn't live here anymore, of course, he knew that. Still, it gave him a glimpse into the person she'd been. It was clean and everything, her parents hadn't changed much of anything.

Her closet was open and he even caught a glimpse of the dress she'd worn to prom. She'd made it, of course, so it was as one-of-a-kind as she could get. He remembered it vividly because he was pretty sure he'd never seen anyone prettier in his life.

He wondered what PEOPLE or even VOGUE would pay for a glimpse of her closet. He knew the prom dress wasn't the only Claire Standish original in there.

"Do you mind," she said, shifting against her pillow.

"Sorry," he said. He couldn't help but smirk at the posters of Ralph Macchio, Footloose, Van Halen's 1984 record, Prince's Purple Rain record, and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. record still on the wall. She'd gone to the Bruce Springsteen concert the July after their senior year he knew. It was one of the many things she'd planned on doing with him.

She relayed the information from the night in question. She hadn't seen her attacker, presumably also Sophie's attacker, as he'd come at her from behind. She did mention there'd been a guy hitting on Sophie, sending her drinks at a bar they'd gone to close to the end of their night. Other than that, she told them where'd they'd been that night.

It was better than the no information they'd had until talking to her.

"If you think of anything else, give us a call," Wayne said, handing her a card.

"Thanks," she said, taking the card. She glanced at John and he looked quickly at the floor. God, he hated seeing her look like this, and look at him as if she'd rather it be Jeffrey Dahmer in her bedroom than him.

She didn't always look at him like that. For close to two months she'd looked at him as if she thought he could walk on water. She'd made him feel pretty damned good about himself, too. It was the first time in his life he'd ever felt that.

"We hope you feel better soon," Wayne said.

"Thanks," she said.

"So, what was that about?" Wayne asked when they'd gotten back in their car once her mother had shown them out.

"I don't know what you're talking about," John answered.

"You didn't ask her one question."

"You were pretty thorough," John said with a shrug.

"Just never seen you that quiet before."

"I wasn't expecting it to be legitimate."

"Well, it's not a lot, but at least we have some places to start at looking for things."

"True," he said, wondering why Claire was out barhopping anyway.

"You think she was honest?" Wayne asked.

This time of day, it was going to take them over an hour to get back to their precinct. He'd be lucky to be home much before seven o'clock. He hated days like this. There was no set time to shifts being a cop, he knew that, but at the end of their day like this there was nothing they were going to be able to do with the information from the interview until tomorrow anyway. Some of the places she named off John knew didn't open until later in the day.

"I don't think she lied or anything, no. There's probably things she doesn't remember yet," John shrugged. Claire was nothing if not honest, at least in John's experience. He supposed that could have changed, but he didn't think so.

The attack happened Saturday, it was only Tuesday. Claire probably spent at least Sunday night in the hospital herself.

"See you tomorrow," Wayne said when they'd gotten back to the precinct.

They'd agreed to start a little later tomorrow since bars didn't open at nine o'clock in the morning and work later in the day than usual.

"Yeah," John said.

John didn't care much for Wayne. He was one of those guys who thought that he was God's gift. It was an attitude foreign to John because not even in high school did he have that high an opinion of himself. Girls liked him, he liked them back but he never let it go to his head. If one didn't like him back, well he didn't dwell on it.

Then he'd only really ever dwelled on one.

He got home about thirty minutes after leaving the precinct. It was after six, but before seven so not too late. He grabbed a beer from the fridge, sliding his tie out of its knot and out from around the collar of his shirt before grabbing the cordless phone. He found the number he was looking for in the yellow pages and dialed it. It was after hours, but he was hoping he could use his credentials and the fact there was an open case to get information from a duty nurse.

Sophie had been a patient there, too, so he was hoping the nurse he got would want to see the guy caught.

He got transferred to the floor they'd been patients on. He just wanted – needed – to know how seriously she'd been hurt.

He hung up, relieved she was overall all right. Some bruising on her ribs, recommended rest as much as possible and no strenuous activity. Common sense stuff. No damage to her face beyond the bruising he'd seen. All things that would heal.

He'd never used being a cop to net information before that wasn't pivotal to a case. Of course, if they caught the guy, they could get him for his assault on Claire as well as on Sophie. The hospital had taken pictures of her injuries, unsure initially if they'd both been raped or not.

After he hung up with the hospital he wondered if she'd be staying at her parents' house for a while then. She probably wasn't too thrilled about that if that was the case. Remembering back, she liked her dad well enough so maybe it wouldn't be too unbearable.

He finished his beer while seeing about dinner for the night. Dinner. It was something he had never had, not consistently anyway. It was something he tried to be sure was at least a regular Sunday through Thursday night thing in his life now.


Everything about the past few years had been as far removed from his childhood as he could get. He wanted to do right, be certain everything he'd done and gone through hadn't been for nothing. He thought he was doing all right, but it was hard to tell some days.