JJ Deveraux sat in the library, burying his nose in his English book. He'd been reading the same sentence over and over. It kept making less sense than before.
"Dude, what're you doing in this dusty old place when its still daylight?" Rory's voice bounced off the walls.
JJ glanced over at the other students trying to study and shrugged apologetically. "Gotta keep my grades up."
"You seriously make me worry, man. You're wasting away in here while there's fun to be had out there."
"No matter though. Cause I," Rory said, plopping into a chair and shoving his long hair out of his eyes, "have the perfect solution." JJ turned a page and Rory said, "Come on, aren't you even gonna listen?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Don't act so excited. It's not good for your heart."
JJ started to turn another page but Rory slammed his palm into the middle of the book. "That loser Paige isn't worth throwing your life away like this, man. She thought she was too good for you, but it was the other way around. Forget her. Go back to your roots."
JJ pushed the book away. "What's the big idea, dude?"
Rory leaned forward, finally dropping his voice to a whisper. "Rumor has it Dr. K leaves the English final lying around on his desk and the door unlocked."
"So if someone were to walk in while he wasn't there they might get a sneak peek. And if they accidentally hit the camera button on their phone, they could share the wealth."
JJ stared at Rory while he tried to figure out what to say. "You mean, cheat."
"Why put it like that? I'm just evening the playing field. So what do you say? Are you in?"
"No!" JJ struggled to catch his breath. "Come on, man. You don't need - "
"Skip the lecture, dude. I get it." Rory shook his head. "It's sad, man. You used to be so much fun before you got mixed up with Paige. Do you know I never once saw her smile? I don't think she knows how. And then you went and fell for her and now you're just like her."
"You know what else is sad?" JJ retorted, crossing his arms. "Me thinking you'd do anything for me like in the old days."
"You mean like the way you took that Jill chick out from under my nose."
JJ jumped up. "You're gonna have to get over that, cause I'm not explaining it to you anymore." He moved closer to Rory, not enough to really be threatening, but Rory jumped back anyway. "You wanna know what happened that night, dude? You really wanna know?" JJ advanced on Rory, not caring they could both be kicked out of the library. "I had your back, that's what. Dude, you were so totally wasted that anything could have gone down and you wouldn't have known the difference, so I got you out of there."
Rory shifted his weight. "I have your back too."
"If you really had mine, you'd help me steal this test." JJ glared at Rory and Rory said, "Come on, man. You're gonna pass with flying colors no matter what, so why can't you just help me have a chance?"
"Dude, you have a chance. Ever heard of opening a book?"
"Easy for you to say." Rory laughed bitterly. "You grew up going to fancy schools and your mommy hanging your report cards on the fridge, and now that you're not smoking weed you're back to being her golden boy who does everything right. Plus even if you do something she's not cool with, all you gotta do is pick up the phone and there's Dr. Dan making time for you."
"So, what, you're jealous now?"
"No, man. I just wish you knew how lucky you are. You got a cool family and all sorts of smarts. Dude, my mom beat me every time I got a bad grade til she got sick of me. If it weren't for my brother I'd still be living in the park. I'm not as smart as you. I can't pass without a little extra help."
"And if we get caught - "
"Yeah, we will. It always catches up with you sooner or later."
"Are you gonna help me or not?"
JJ was quiet for a minute, trying to get his words together. Finally he said, "Any time you wanna study, I'm there, dude."
"Forget it, man." Rory swung his backpack over his shoulder. "I got plenty of real friends who'll help. If you're not one of them, don't bother calling me anymore." He stomped off towards the elevator.
JJ threw himself into his chair and slumped down. Sorry, Rory, he thought. I'm not giving up on you that easily.
Hope sat at her desk, flipping through files while she talked to Jennifer on the phone. "Of course. When I get done at the station, we'll do coffee and get caught up. And Jennifer, just breathe, okay? JJ's come a long way. He'll get through this too. See you soon, cuz. Bye."
Rafe knocked on Hope's open office door as she hung up the phone, then stuck his head in. "You got a minute to ride out with me to Salem U?"
"Of course. What's up?"
"Campus Security just called something in that I think you should be in on."
"Let's go then." Hope threw her jacket on and followed Rafe out of the station.
When Jennifer got Hope's text that it might be a while, she decided to go to Brady's Pub by herself. She wanted to get out of the house. The picture of her late husband, Jack, on the mantel just seemed to be staring at her, telling her that she had to do something for their son. If he was here she would yell at him that she didn't know what to do, but since he wasn't, it was better just to get out.
She got herself a cinnamon latte, her favorite, which she hadn't had in a long time, and sipped it slowly, trying not to think of anything. Wasn't that what Julie had told her? Meditate and don't think of anything. If only she knew how that worked.
"I thought that was you, Jennifer." Maggie Horton looked as smart as ever in her pale pink suit, pearl earrings and necklace to match.
"Hi Aunt Maggie." Jennifer tried to smile. "Where are you off to all dressed up?"
"Oh, nowhere special. Just off to lead a meeting, that's all. But I'm glad I caught you." Maggie sat down across from Jen and patted her hand. "Tell me, how is that wonderful son of yours doing ever since he broke ties with Eve Donovan's daughter?"
"I wish I knew." Jennifer pushed her coffee away, shaking her head. "He's hurting, Aunt Maggie, I know he's hurting, and I don't know how to reach him."
"Well, what does he say when you talk to him?"
"Nothing. He'll tell me, 'Oh Mom, I'm fine. Don't worry about me.' But he leaves the house early in the morning and doesn't come back until almost 11 o'clock at night. He says he's studying all the time, and I hope that's true, but that's not JJ." Jen took another sip of her coffee and said, slowly, "You're probably going to think I'm being paranoid, but you know the signs better than I do… do you think this means he's doing something he shouldn't be?"
"You mean drugs?"
Jen blinked back the tears as she nodded.
"Oh, Jennifer Rose…" Maggie took Jen's hand in hers. "If he changed once, he can do it again. How about I talk to him and if he has relapsed, I'll help him get right back to what he's supposed to be doing."
"Are you sure? I know you have a lot going on with Brady and - "
"Stop it. We are family. No matter what happens, I'm always here for my favorite niece. Now, you said he leaves early in the morning? How early?"
"Most days, I don't even know he's gone."
"Then I'll just have to stay over so that I can catch him before he leaves. I'll just tell Victor that he'll have to live without me for one night."
"Oh no, Aunt Maggie, I couldn't ask you to - "
"Not another word." Maggie took out her phone and began texting. "One thing we have in common is that once our minds are made up, nothing can change them. And mine is made up that I am helping you."
There was an older man standing outside the dorm room as Rafe and Hope came around the corner. He was wearing a jacket with a Salem U insignia, and the lanyard tucked halfway into his shirt was probably his name badge.
"Jake Peterson?" Rafe asked him.
Peterson held out his hand. "Call me Pete. Everyone does."
Rafe displayed his badge as they shook hands. "This is, uh, the scene?"
"Yes, sir. "
The two cops slipped on gloves before opening the door all the way so that they wouldn't damage any evidence. Rafe couldn't help whistling under his breath as they walked in.
The room had totally been torn apart. The pieces of a broken lamp were still on the floor, forcing the detectives to watch their step, papers and books were strewn everywhere, the desk had been overturned… The only thing that was intact was the bed. A girl sat on it, hugging herself and staring at the floor. She was clearly old enough to be a student here, but the way she was hunched over made her look no older than Hope's daughter Ciara, who was in the fourth grade.
"Marissa?" Hope said gently. The girl nodded. "Um, what happened here?" Hope asked.
"I don't want to talk about it."
Hope and Rafe exchanged glances. Hope said, "How about Detective Hernandez interviews Mr. Peterson about what he saw when he found you while you and I talk?"
"I guess," Marissa mumbled. Hope mouthed her thanks to Rafe as he left the room.
"Can I sit down with you?" Hope asked Marissa. Marissa nodded and Hope sat down carefully on the bed. "You must have been so scared. Look at the way this guy tore this room apart. Were you in here then?"
"I was here." Marissa hugged herself tighter. Hope waited a minute before saying, "Tell me what happened."
"I don't remember all of it." Marissa blinked hard. "He… he had a knife and he… he made me…" She put her head in her hands, then looked up again. "He wanted money and jewelry and whatever else was valuable, so he… he tied me to the bed and...and he…" she began to cry.
"He hurt you," Hope said.
Marissa nodded. She rolled up her skirt and showed Hope a mark around her ankle. "He taped my legs," she said, dropping it. She rolled up her sleeve next and showed Hope another mark. It looked like a rope had been pressed into her skin. "He tied my wrists." She pulled at her ripped dress. "He ripped the sash off my dress and shoved it in my mouth to shut me up."
Hope sighed. The young ones always got to her when they got hurt. "I'm sorry I have to ask this, but did he hurt you anywhere else?"
Marissa shook her head. "He pulled my skirt up but then he just laughed, like if he wanted to he could, but he didn't. Instead he tore up the room and ran off with my stuff."
Hope looked at her, trying to size up if the girl was leaving anything out.
"I'm so tired," Marissa said.
"That's understandable. Let's get you to a hospital to be checked out and then - "
"No. No, I don't need that. Everyone will laugh at me and my parents will find out and they'll make me leave school."
"I want to make sure you're all right. I know some doctors who you can absolutely trust."
"I guess." Marissa stood up. She looked away from Hope and said, shyly, "Is it okay if I get changed first?"
Paige stared at the paper on her desk for about the millionth time. Okay, she thought, this is it. Sign this paper and you won't have to see JJ ever again.
She reached for a pen, but stopped as Eve came out of the bedroom. "You're here late today, baby," Eve said. "Now I hate to see you moping around and not going to class over some boy."
"He wasn't just some boy, Mom," Paige said. "I thought I loved him."
Eve sighed. She played with Paige's braids the way she had when Paige was a little girl and said, "Come here, sweetheart." Paige seemed reluctant, but she followed her to the couch.
Eve took Paige's hands in her own and said, "I tried so hard to protect you from this, baby girl, but you might as well realize now that no man is worth it. You know what I went through with all those men including your daddy. But don't you let this get you down. You just keep going to class and getting those grades that come so easy to you, and soon enough you'll be on your way to Stanford."
"Mom - "
"Or if not Stanford, somewhere else full of smart people doing amazing things. You have a bright future ahead of you, and you can't let someone like JJ Deveraux stop you from getting everything you deserve." Eve glanced at the paper Paige was still holding in her hand. "What's this, baby?"
"It's nothing. It's just…"
"A drop form? Isn't it a little late in the semester to be changing your classes around?"
"It's no big deal, Mom. I'll have to take a W, but - "
"No big deal? No, my little girl is not getting a W. No way, no how. Now come on, music is supposed to be your fun class. I know you love it, so why would you even consider dropping it?" Eve's face hardened. "It's that JJ, isn't it? He's in there. Honey, if he's bothering you - "
"He'd better not be."
"It's not that JJ's doing anything wrong," Paige said slowly. "It's just that we used to sit in the front of the class together, so right now I'd rather not see him, okay?"
"Then let him drop the class. A W won't make any difference to him."
"My mind is made up. I need more time to focus on my internship anyway." Paige got up. "I'll see you later, Mom."
Paige hurried out of the apartment before Eve could say anything else. While she waited for the elevator, she stared at the other paper she had printed out. Thank God Mom didn't see this before I've made up my mind, she thought.
Nicole Walker had just sat down with a cup of coffee when her boss called to talk to her about the new guy she had just interviewed for the internship position. The guy had seemed nice enough, and definitely knew his stuff, but something about him was off, and she couldn't figure out what it was.
"Miles," she said in a falsely bright tone. "I'm waiting for a call back from my source at the police station, but believe me, this one is worth the wait. How does an exclusive on a crime wave that the cops don't want us to know about sound? You're right, that title needs work-can't win them all. What?"
Daniel came into the coffee shop just then. Nicole waved him over while she continued trying to get rid of Miles. "Yes, Miles, I interviewed two more internship candidates. Yeah, that first guy would make decent eye candy. Okay, I'm lying-he'd make great eye candy. But I'm not sure he can produce the stories to match, and what's a pretty face without any talent, right?" Miles yelled at her through the phone for the 30th time that he wanted the internship filled by the end of the week. "I don't think I heard you right," Nicole said. "I think you might want this done by Friday. Don't worry, I'm on it." She hung up.
"Sorry about that," Nicole said. "You know how Miles gets. He's like an angry dog with a bone all the time."
"I get that." Daniel smiled at Nicole, and she felt like she could breathe more easily. "So what's the bone you're trying to wrest away from him this time?"
"You don't want to know, believe me." Nicole sighed. "He's got it in his head that it'll be good for our image to hire some college kid to get in my way and blow it with all of my sources."
"What, an intern?"
"Yep. I don't know why he didn't just try to buy Will Horton back from Hollywood. After all, he keeps saying we have an image to keep up, so Will's tell-all exposes would fit in, don't you think?"
"I'm gonna go with the words you hate to hear: no comment." Daniel flashed a smile at Nicole.
"You're a big help."
"You should see what I have to work with," Nicole said. "This last guy that came in knew all the right things to say. It was like he ate a textbook on how to ace reporter job interviews, but if he came across a story that somehow didn't make it into his class notes, he'd have no idea what to do. And he was the best one yet." Nicole tapped her pen on the table. "Hey, could you do me a favor?"
"It doesn't involve hiding any evidence, I swear." Nicole laughed, but Daniel didn't. "Too soon?"
"Just a little." Daniel sipped his coffee. "What's up?"
"Next time you see JJ, do you think you can sell him on the idea that pursuing a journalism internship will add depth to his future musical tours? I know reporting isn't really his thing, but he has good instincts, and so far these other jokers wouldn't know a story if it came running up to them wearing the words EXCLUSIVE SCOOP."
Daniel's phone rang just then. He glanced at it, frowning. "I gotta take this. It's Parker's preschool." He picked it up. "Hello? Yeah, this is Parker's dad. What? Nah, it's probably nothing to be concerned about, but I'll come get him now."
Daniel got off the phone. "I gotta go get Parker."
"Is he okay?"
"I think so. He said he felt dizzy during circle time, but he probably just needs some extra time with his dad before he leaves for Chloe's tomorrow. Sometimes the day before he gets a little clingy." Daniel's phone buzzed again as he stood up. He glanced at it. "You gotta be kidding me. It's been quiet all day and they're paging me now?" He sighed. "Nicole, I hate to ask you, but I don't see any way around this. I'm gonna have to bring Parker to the hospital with me; do you think you could keep him entertained in the waiting room til I get done?"
"Of course. You know I love that little guy." Nicole grabbed her purse and threw it over her shoulder so she could follow Daniel out of the coffee shop.
JJ got to the music building early on purpose so he could play his guitar. He liked the feel of the auditorium. Before he and Paige had broken up, she'd sat listening to him play and he thought he might actually be good enough to be up on the stage someday.
Probably not, he thought now, but playing in the auditorium still was totally different than playing in his bedroom or even in the living room at home.
As he tuned up, his friend Jeff came in and slid into the seat next to him. JJ did his best to ignore him. Playing in front of people he didn't know well made him nervous. He took his time tuning each string to an app on his phone, hoping Jeff would go away before he began playing for real.
"Did you hear about that girl who got attacked?" Jeff asked.
"Really? The cops were all over it. You couldn't get into the dorms, that's why I'm here so early. Apparently some guy broke into this girl's room, tied her up and trashed the place. Your mom's cousin was nosing around looking for the guy and so was this big Hispanic cop."
"Dude," JJ said, running his thumb over the strings. "That's terrible. What're you so happy about it for?"
"I'm not," Jeff protested. "It's just that campus is so quiet. This story has exclusive written all over it, and if I can crack it, I'll impress that ice-cold bitch who interviewed me for the journalism internship. I could tell she didn't want to give me a second thought, but when she sees what I can do, she'll know she misjudged me." Jeff put his backpack down. "You have an in with your cousin-think you can get me an interview about this robbery?"
"I don't think so," JJ said quickly. He put away his tuning app. "You, uh, you didn't happen to catch the girl's name who got robbed, did you?"
"Marissa somebody. I never heard of her."
JJ said nothing else. Relief washed over him that it wasn't Paige who had got robbed, though he played it cool, strumming his guitar like he wasn't thinking about his ex-girlfriend at all.
Paige was, just then, walking across campus with Daphne. She'd been spending a lot of time with Daphne since the breakup; even though she didn't know the other girl that well, she appreciated her company, and Daphne had never once said a word against JJ when they were dating.
"So did you give any more thought to moving into my room?" Daphne asked.
Paige sighed. "I was all set to sign the papers this morning, but… wasn't that girl who got attacked living in your dorm?"
"Yeah, but that was an aberration." Daphne hugged a book to her chest. "Come on, Paige, it would be so much fun, plus it would get you away from your mom's prying eyes. That way next time you meet someone, she can't fill your head with doubts."
"What happened between me and JJ wasn't about my mom. I mean, yeah, she didn't help, but in the end JJ just had too much baggage and I wasn't ready to help him deal with it, you know?"
"That's too bad. I thought you guys made a cute couple."
Paige glanced up at the trees as the girls walked through the wooded area behind Daphne's dorm. "It's too nice a day out to talk about things that weren't meant to be," she said.
"You still going to drop that class you share with him?"
"I never really wanted to take Music Theory anyway. I just couldn't get into anything else."
"If you say so."
Paige bit her lip. She really wanted to move in with Daphne, but she wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do. She clutched the drop form tightly in her hand as the girls made their way towards the music room so she could get the teacher's signature.
Nicole had asked someone to bring some toys to the waiting room for Parker, but he wasn't really playing. Instead, he sat half on the chair next to Nicole, holding a toy truck and leaning against her while he moved it slowly back and forth.
"Still not feeling good, huh?" Nicole put her arm around Parker. He shook his head and she said, "Your daddy will be back soon."
"Nik…" Parker said. "Where's Jennifer?"
Nicole's eyes widened. She didn't know what Daniel had told Parker about the breakup with Jen, and she knew better than to explain how much better off both Daniel and his son were without that wanna-be saint in their lives. "Well," she said, "she's not here. But you know who is here? Good old Aunt Nicole. You and me always have a good time, right? And soon your daddy's gonna be all done fixing up whoever it is who needs his help right now, and he's gonna spend the whole rest of the day with you."
Parker made a loud, wheezing sound like he was about to start crying. Nicole pulled him onto her lap. "Don't take it so hard, sweetheart," she said. "I know I can't compare with Jennifer but - " She cut herself off; Parker's heart felt like it was beating super fast under her fingertips. "Oh my God," Nicole said under her breath. Parker was still crying, only it wasn't crying...he was gasping for breath.
Nicole's brain didn't know what to do, but her body moved by itself, scooping Parker up, running to the nurse's station. "He's not… he's not breathing right. Help him." The nurse on duty seemed to Nicole to be moving too slowly. "Don't just stand there! Get him on oxygen or something!" The nurse picked up the phone and announced some code or other, then two emergency workers came running to the front desk. For a second Nicole got confused and hugged Parker tight, not wanting them to take her baby away, then Maxine said to her, "The doctors can't work on him with you squeezing him so tight, Nicole." and she came back to the present, realizing she wasn't holding her dead baby boy but a barely alive, struggling to breathe four year old that she was supposed to be watching for just a few minutes.
"Sorry," Nicole mumbled as they loaded Parker onto a gurney and started checking his vitals. "For a minute I thought…" One of the emergency workers leaned over and said to Parker, "Can you talk, buddy?" and Nicole said quickly, without thinking, "He won't talk to strangers." The emergency workers hooked Parker up to some machines and rolled him down the hall. Nicole watched him go.
Maxine touched her shoulder and she flinched. "I thought you might like to know that your quick thinking probably saved that boy's life."
"He's all alone in there," Nicole said, still dazed. "Daniel's with a patient and probably doesn't even know and if he comes to, he won't know who anyone is or what's happening."
"When he comes to," Maxine said firmly, "he'll see at least one familiar face because you're gonna be right there with him. Now don't you worry about Daniel. I'll track him down and get him over there as soon as possible. In the meantime, you go into the ICU and if anyone gives you a hard time, you just tell them Maxine told you to come.".
"So what do you say?" Jeff said. "If I get this exclusive, I can find out for you who the girl was, so you can, you know, make sure she's all right."
JJ, not liking the way Jeff said that, said, "I told you, my cousin isn't gonna tell me anything, and she sure as hell isn't gonna tell YOU."
Just then, the auditorium door opened. JJ automatically turned his head to see who was coming in. When he saw it was Paige, he turned around again and began playing quickly to make it look like he hadn't noticed her.
"Guess your ex is back from the dead," Jeff said. JJ pretended not to hear.
Paige walked up to the front of the room, holding herself very straight and tall, walking slowly. JJ couldn't help thinking that she was one classy woman. Too classy for me, he reminded himself. He strained to hear what Paige was saying to the teacher, though he didn't know why he cared.
"Paige," the teacher said. "I'm glad to have you back with us. I was worried."
"Actually," Paige said, "I've been thinking about it, and I've decided this class isn't really for me. I know it's late in the semester, but I was hoping you would sign my drop form." She glanced behind her, and JJ was sure she'd seen him looking at her. He watched her take her signed form back, wondering if he should say something to her as she passed by again. No. It was over, so what was the point of saying anything?
Paige left the classroom. JJ watched the door swing closed. He put his guitar down and slumped down in his seat. There was no point in playing now.
Hope's mind was on Marissa the whole way back to the station. She had left the girl in good hands at the hospital, and she just hoped her intuition was wrong and that Marissa hadn't been lying about her attacker stopping short of rape.
Now she and Rafe were in her office, discussing the case, and she was glad, because getting into cop mode stopped her from ruminating on how her victim was doing.
"So, what do you think?" Rafe asked her.
"I didn't really get any good information out of the victim. The poor girl was too shaken up. No real description of the guy, no ideas about anyone who could have done this to her, and she lives alone. Did you get anything useful out of the security guy?"
"He was mainly concerned about what parents will think if this makes it onto the 6 o'clock news." Rafe sighed. "Besides he didn't see much of anything. He got a bunch of noise complaints, contacted the resident assistant, and she came over and found the girl. She called him, he came and took a look, then called us."
"You don't think he - "
"I didn't get that sense, though we can't rule him out." Rafe consulted his notes one more time. "He just seems like a guy who's in over his head. Most of what campus security deals with over there is petty little things. Kids fighting, underage drinking, that sort of thing. The only reason he called us was he's never dealt with anything this major and wanted to make sure it was handled right. He kept saying that he thought maybe someone wandered in from off campus, and that could have been to deflect suspicion, but I got more of a sense that he didn't want to believe that someone who actually goes to school there is capable of this kind of violence."
"So basically we have nothing." Hope looked through her notes. "I told Kayla to call me as soon as Marissa's examination is complete. When I do, I'll head over to the hospital and talk to her again, but I don't think I'll get much out of her. I'll try to get a list of her friends and then we can split that up."
"In the meantime, I'll look through recent unsolved cases and see if there's anything that matches this scenario. Maybe we'll get lucky and this guy will have struck before."
The office phone rang. Hope picked it up. "Salem PD, Brady." She frowned. "What? Yes, of course, we'll be there right away."
"Kayla done with the girl?"
"No," Hope said. "There's been another robbery in the dorms."
Kayla had called Marlena in for a consult after she had finished examining Marissa. "The good news is," she told Marlena, "there's no signs of trauma in the genital area, so she hasn't been raped. But what happened to her obviously isn't good, so I thought I should bring you in prior to releasing her."
"Of course," Marlena said. "Why don't you introduce me to her, since you've already built rapport with her? That way she knows you're turning her over to someone she can trust."
Marlena followed Kayla into the hospital room. "Marissa," Kayla said, "this is Dr. Marlena Evans, our head psychiatrist. I wanted her to talk to you for a few minutes about - "
"A shrink?" Marissa said. "Thank you, Dr. Brady, but no thanks. I don't need to talk about what happened to me. It's over and done with."
"I can understand that," Marlena said, sitting down near Marissa. Kayla left the room to give them some privacy. "But you know, Marissa, you're a young woman away from home for the first time and you suffered a very violent attack. It's important to know that there are people you can go to for support. You don't have to deal with this alone."
"If you really understood, you'd leave me alone." Marissa crossed her arms. "I don't need support, I don't need pity, all I need is to see the cops haul in the guy who did this to me and throw him in a cell, okay? Now go away and tell Dr. Brady to let me go back to my dorm so I can go on with my life."
Rory didn't bother to show up to English class, which meant he was probably off somewhere smoking a joint. Figured, JJ thought. He barely paid attention during class either; while Dr. K droned on and on he put his mind to work coming up with a plan to make sure Rory didn't get himself expelled.
By the time class ended, a dim idea had formed in his mind. He had a feeling about where Rory was, and the first step in his plan had to be to find out what his friend was up to.
Instead of going through campus proper, JJ cut through the woods behind the dorms. There was a place in the middle of the woods where someone had cut down a bunch of trees, and Rory and the other stoners went out there a lot. JJ knew because Rory kept trying to get him to come.
He was halfway there when his cousin Hope called his name. Dammit, JJ thought. Hope had her badge and gun, which meant she was here on official police business, and even though he wasn't doing anything wrong, he didn't want to talk to the cops right now, or anytime, really.
"Hey, Hope," JJ said, trying to smile.
She didn't smile back. "What are you doing in these woods?"
"Taking a shortcut to the English office."
"Well, don't. It's not safe-someone's already broken into the dorms twice and for all we know he's hiding out here."
"Twice?" JJ's heart beat fast. "Who… who got hit the second time?"
Hope looked him up and down, but then her face softened and she said, "I don't think it was anyone you know, honey. But have you seen anything suspicious, anyone around here who doesn't seem to belong?"
JJ thought about it for a second. "Nobody."
"Okay then. Get back to campus." As JJ reluctantly turned around and headed back towards the main buildings, Hope called after him, "And JJ?" He turned his head and she said, "Be careful, okay? This guy could be anywhere, so keep your guard up."
Nicole sat with Parker for what seemed like forever. There was an oxygen tube slipped into his little nose now and he was hooked up to a heart monitor. The display glowed an eerie green that Nicole couldn't stand looking at.
Parker's eyes were closed; he was resting, the nurse had said, but Nicole wished he would wake up.
"Come on," she said under her breath. "Where's your daddy already?"
The door opened then and Maxine came in, followed by Daniel. Nicole stood up. "Daniel, hi. I'm glad you're here. I'm sure Parker is too, or he will be when he wakes up."
"What happened?" Daniel asked.
Nicole shrugged. "One minute he was fine, the next his heart was beating at a thousand beats a minute and he was gasping for breath."
"We're gonna have a cardiologist take a look at him," Maxine told Daniel, "as soon as you sign off on it."
"Okay," Daniel said. "Order a pulmonologist consult too. Maybe whatever happened started in his lungs. I'm thinking an asthma attack and then he just got scared. Also, I'll want a full blood panel in case he picked up some kind of infection that's causing all this."
"Yes, doctor. I'll get the paperwork started right away." Maxine left the room.
"How long has he been out?" Daniel asked Nicole.
"Maybe half an hour." Nicole patted Daniel's shoulder. "He tired himself out fighting the EMTs. The tubes and equipment scared him and he didn't want them touching him."
"Yeah, I bet they did." Daniel sighed. "I guess I'd better call Chloe, let her know what's up."
"She's his mother, Nicole. She has a right to know her son's in the hospital."
"I know that. But what about you, Daniel? You just got off work, got this terrible news, and you don't get a minute to just be with your son?" Nicole pulled out the chair. "Sit."
"I can't. There are people I gotta notify… and I gotta check on his test results… and confirm for once and for all that this was nothing serious."
"Nothing serious? Daniel - "
"I gotta do something, Nicole! Parker, he was fine this morning and now he's lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a breathing machine. I need to know why. I need to use all my medical know-how, all my expertise, and get him better."
"I understand, believe me I do," Nicole said. "But Daniel - "
"No." Daniel turned his back on Nicole. "Any other patient, I'd go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure they get the best care I can possibly give them. When it comes to my son, I gotta do twice as much."
"She's right, you know," Kayla said from the doorway.
"Kayla." Daniel's manner was professional, his tone of voice even, but he didn't fool Nicole, and she doubted he was fooling Kayla either. "Did we get the test results back already?"
"I think we should talk." Kayla glanced at Nicole. "Would you mind giving us a minute?"
"Yeah. Sure. I have some calls I need to make for work anyway." Nicole kneeled down and kissed the top of Parker's head. "You feel better, little guy, you hear?" She couldn't help squeezing Daniel's shoulder on the way out of the room.
The door swung closed behind Nicole. Daniel waited for Kayla to say something, but she just stood there, clutching Parker's chart close to her chest and trying to smile.