Chapter 9: Walking Wounded

Jenny Cavanaugh stood behind the counter of Mabel's, busily wiping down the area nearest the cash register. The second morning rush was over and the diner was quieting. At these times, when she chose to allow it, her thoughts flooded with memories of her sister. She missed Samantha terribly; as much as she knew Jasper did.

While the temporary lulls in the diner's activity gave Jenny some much needed relief, it could also be a time of dread for her. Memories of her sister brings smiles to her face more and more as time passes. Those same memories could just as easily bring her pain and sadness. This day ran the gambit. How many hours had she and Sam spent during lulls huddled together, talking at the counter. Usually one of them sat while the other stood, absentmindedly tending to it. They could talk about anything. Aside from a couple of off-limit topics, everything else was fair game; from the goings on at the high school, to shopping, to the changes they would make in each others hair, to guys. That last one only up to a point.

Neither of the Cavanaugh daughters had many boyfriends growing up. Their sheriff-father would never have allowed that. There was no one before Jasper for Samantha. They grew up together. They were almost raised together. As toddlers they were practically inseparable. They spent years chasing each other through the fields on the Arnold's farm. They were often bathed together after being found in laughing heaps; dirty, itchy and covered in field grasses. Until Samantha became involved with Ralston-boy Kelly, it had only ever been Jasper.

Jenny's dating experience, on the other hand, was only a little more than her little sister. But like her little sister, her last relationship was also with a Ralston-boy. Her relationship resulting in the birth of daughter Patty. Jenny's dating days have been very limited ever since. Ralston boys, was one of her off-limit topics, until Samantha got interested in one of her own. Then for a time near the end, it was one of Sam's as well.

The tinkling of the bell over Mabel's entrance forced Jenny to temporarily abandon the thoughts of her sister.

"Hi Dad," she greeted her father as he came into the diner.

Sheriff Earl Cavanaugh marched with straightened back and squared shoulders from the door to the counter as if he were a rookie again undergoing an inspection. His uniform and his demeanor made for an intimidating sight. He barely acknowledged the patrons sprinkled about the diner, let alone greeted any of them. When he took an empty seat at the counter where Jenny stood, he steadied his sidearm on one hip and his nightstick on the other.

"Where is the Jace girl?" he asked his daughter, suspiciously glancing around the diner.

"Oh, I'm fine Dad. Thank you. How are you?"

The sarcasm was not lost on the sheriff. "I'm sorry honey," he apologized, realizing he was displaying more than his usual preoccupation and less than his usual fatherly attentiveness towards his daughter. He half stood, leaned over the counter, and reached for her. Putting both hands on either side of her face, he kissed her on both cheeks. "I'm really sorry daughter."

"It's okay Dad." Jenny smiled to herself. She couldn't begin to count how many times instead of calling Samantha by her name, her father simply called her daughter. "Coffee Dad?" she asked him, still smiling at the memory.

"Thanks honey. Could you make it a large to go?"

"Sure." Jenny turned her back for a moment to get her father's coffee. When she turned back she asked, "Dad, you looking for Alex for any particular reason?"

"Just keeping an eye on things."

"Daaad."

"Jenniferrrr," Sheriff Cavanaugh mocked his daughter's tone. "Look, we don't know this young woman and…"

"But Dad," Jenny not letting her father finish. "Alex is doing great here. Everyone likes her. She's handling the rush everyday. And there's no cash missing from the register."

"Well, I'm certainly happy she hasn't proven herself to be a criminal...yet."

"Dad." This time Jenny's tone was more admonishing of her father's skepticism.

He then sighed. Why couldn't his only remaining daughter understand that every time some non-local decided to 'spend some time' in his little town, it only meant trouble? Hasn't that lesson been experienced enough by his family? As the sheriff, he was not going to let it be revisited again. "Jennifer, I still want to know where she is today."

It was Jenny's turn to sigh. "Her shift doesn't start until later. She's free on her own recognizance until then. Satisfied?"

"My daughter is filled with sarcasm today."

"Answer the question."

"Don't know yet."

"Well you're the law in this town Dad. You can always run her name through the FBI most wanted data base." Jenny handed her father his coffee and kissed him lightly on his cheek.

"No probable cause," he responded, with a bit of sarcasm of his own, getting up from the stool he currently occupied. He returned a kiss to her forehead and before leaving, asked, "When did you become such a smart-aleck daughter?"

"I love you Father."

"I love you too Daughter."

oO0Oo

"Jasper… Jas!" No response. "Hey… Dude, what are you doing?" Still Pete got nothing out of Jasper. So he crouched down beside his best friend.

Jasper sat on the asphalt still and silent. His back was propped up against the closed door of his car. His feet were spread apart and planted flat; forcing him to draw up his long legs, and providing him a platform to rest his elbows atop his knees. Cradling his bloody hand in the cup of his other, he blankly stared straight ahead.

It was not new to Pete to see Jasper doing this. He was used to it. However, watching him now, he could tell something was different. His usual far-off, distant stare had found a new focus very close by. Following his best friend's gaze, Pete found the object of that focus – Samantha's grave, more specifically, her headstone. Pete looked back to his friend and choked back a gasp. He didn't notice it before but now he saw. All the blood. Blood running off Jasper's hands and dripping down, through his fingers onto the ground between his legs. Pete also noticed the shattered, blood-stained glass all around and the smashed car window above Jasper's head.

Shit! Pete's first thought before quickly jumping to his feet, and with both hands, pulling Jasper to his. Only then did Jasper snap out of his catatonic state and acknowledge Pete standing in front of his face.

"Man, what have you done!" Pete was talking at him now.

"Nothin. It's nothing."

"Stop bullshitting me man. Look at this!" Pete was practically shouting at him.

Jasper still looked dazed and confused. "Just leave it, okay."

"No freakin' way man. You asked me to do that before. Been there, done that. Not gonna happen this time. Why the hell didn't you tell me you were coming here all this time?" Pete demanded.

"Because it was none of your damn business, Pete." Jasper's anger flaring.

"I'm watching my best friend do a crash and burn!" Pete's own anger now flaring as well. "So you know damn well that ain't true." Pete grabbed Jasper by the arm and dragged him back to his car.

"Where are we going?"

"To Mabel's. We're going to grab a couple of burgers, some fries. Check out that hot new girl Alex." Pete's response dripped with sarcasm, then switched to angered concern. "You're bleeding all over the place. Where the hell do you think we're going? Somebody's gotta look at that. Unless you want me to go to your Mom and tell her how you were going to stay sitting here and let yourself bleed to death."

"I'm fine man. It's not that bad."

"Right. Your Mom is going to see it just like that. Do you know she asked me if I thought you were usin'?"

Jasper stopped dead in his tracks. So suddenly Pete was jolted back a couple of steps. "What did you tell her?"

"Are you kidding me?" Pete asked incredulously. "I know you're not using and I told her that. Besides, I don't think she really believes you're into that. Van thinks she's just eliminating possibilities. Your Mom's freaking a little Jas."

"I know," Jasper acknowledged with a resigning sigh. "Hey, thanks Pete."

"Don't I always have your back?"

The two of them continued back to Pete's car, which was parked directly behind Jasper's, when Jasper stopped again.

"Hold up. What about my car? If I go home without it, my Dad's gonna be all over my ass."

"We'll come back and get it after we get your hand fixed up. Don't worry about it. Come on."

oO0Oo

The quiet serenity of the outdoors was abruptly overwhelmed by the chaotic buzz of Mabel's Table. Alex entered in time to catch Jenny struggling to clear several tables and making sure all her regulars got served.

Her back to the entrance, Jenny called, "Let me get these last tables and I'll be right with you."

"It's okay. It's me," Alex called back to her. She moved to clear one of Jenny's other tables; letting her off the hook of having to take care of yet another customer. "You really look like you could use a breather."

"You are a life saver. But there is an order up for that table in the corner. I haven't gotten to them yet." Jenny was pointing to the couple in a booth in the front window. "And Ted is at the counter. And…"

"I got it. I got it," Alex assured her before she could finish. "Go, take off. I can manage on my own for a few minutes. By the way, you owe me for Ted."

Jenny hugged Alex briefly. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I'll be right back. Oh! Before I forget, I wanted to give you a heads up –watch out for my Dad." Jenny was, with that vague warning, out the door. Alex was left with raised eyebrows, needy customers, and Ted.

"Here you go Ted." Alex sat down a fresh, hot, steaming cup of coffee in front of her most adoring customer.

"I didn't order anything yet," he protested.

"I know. I don't have time to hover today." Alex was off and running before Ted could protest any further. She brought the order up to the family at the corner table and took the order of the couple in the booth in the front window. The same booth usually and conveniently left vacant for her favorite mystery-man customer. He was very late today.

As she promised, Jenny returned shortly after she left. Things in the diner had slowed down considerably in the few minutes she was gone. In the subsequent lull, which may or may not last too long, was all the chance Alex might have to get an explanation from Jenny about her warning. She was waiting behind the counter when Jenny took a seat on a stool on the customer side.

"Jen, why'd you warn me to watch out for your dad?" Alex asked with a smile. "He doesn't trust me still, does he?" she answered her own question.

"It's not that," Jenny started somewhat embarrassed. "It's just that he's…"

"He's a cop." Alex finished for her laughingly. "I understand. I'm not worried. If there's anything he needs to know, I have nothing to hide. If you want to ease his mind, tell him I'm not casing the local bank or this place either for that matter. I prefer to earn my money and I'm pretty okay at that, even if I do say so myself. Oh! You might also want to let him know that I haven't hot-wired a car since I was a little kid. My dad had a fit."

Jenny's eyes narrowed and she ran a nervous hand through her golden blond, shoulder-length hair in total confusion and apprehension. This was the first time she ever worried about her on-the-spot hiring of Alex. Had she made a serious mistake? Could her father possibly be right in his suspicion of her? How would she fix… Jenny's sudden doubts were squelched when she looked more closely into Alex's face and realized Alex was waiting for exactly the reaction she was having. "Bitch," Jenny said shaking her head with a chuckle.

A very broad smile broke out across Alex's freckle-sprinkled face. "You're easier than I thought," she teased. "I wish a certain other someone was a little easier. Besides your father."

"You mean Jasper."

"A little bit. I don't think he likes or trusts me very much either."

"I don't believe either one of them dislikes you. The trust thing–that's a whole other issue. With my Dad – let's just say we've had trouble in town before with strangers."

"And Jasper?"

"Almost the same thing. And I mentioned that before. It's been hard for him." Jenny paused for a long time. "Sometimes I wish…" Jenny started then faltered – thinking better of what she was saying. "No! I'm not going to," she said more to herself than to Alex.

Alex chose to ignore Jenny's momentary lapse. After a thought filled pause, Alex declared, "What I have to do now is work a little magic, wear them both down a little, and assure them both that they have nothing to worry about from me."

"Hmm. You're a brave girl. A word of advice?"

"Shoot."

"I wouldn't start with Jasper."

"That may be a problem. That wounded puppy-dog look is hard to resist. But I can recognize a guy still in love when I see one." Alex paused again. "So I'm going to take your advice and focus on earning your father's trust for now."

"That's going to be a tall order."

"As tall as Jasper?"

This time it was Jenny's turn to laugh. "Either way it's going to be hard sells for both my father and Jasper."

"As much as I want to take your advice, Mrs. Arnold's invitation to dinner tonight may screw that up. She insisted I be there. So I guess I'll see what happens with Jasper then."

"Good luck."

"Yeah." Alex hesitated. "Um," she started slowly. "I've been offered a gig. A photo assignment."

"Tell me you're not quitting." A hint of panic punctuated Jenny's query. Aside from her sister, Alex was one of only a very few others, her mother and herself included, who could handle the diner rushes. Jenny didn't want to lose her now.

"No, I'm not quitting," Alex told her quickly; glad to see Jenny easing. "I don't even know if I've got the gig yet. The magazine's editor wants me to submit new samples of my stuff. I don't have my portfolio with me right now though. I'm having it shipped."

"If you don't have any of your work with you, what are you going to submit?" Jenny asked, leaning her elbows on the countertop.

"That's kind of where you come in."

Jenny's face fell. "You're not asking to take pictures of me?"

"I'd love to photograph you; try my hand at more portraits. Except, you know landscapes not portraits are my specialty." Alex held both her arms out to her side. "My thoughts were I could shoot here – Putnam – for the assignment…"

"Putnam?" Jenny threw a thumb over her shoulder towards the bank of windows across the front of the diner. "It's still winter. There's not a lot out there."

"It's beautiful here, the little I've seen of it so far. I have so much more to take in."

Alex's enthusiasm was a little surprising to Jenny. She had lived in Putnam her whole life. It was the same old small town to her, the same as it's always been. "How do I fit into this then?" she asked.

Alex drew in a deep breath before responding. "Would your parents – your father in particular – have a problem with me taking some shots of the lake behind your house tomorrow night? I'd really like to submit those for my samples."

"You don't have to wait all day. If you're worried, my Father will be up and out first thing in the morning. You can get your pictures taken as early as you need to."

"I'm not worried, thank you. I had something specifically darker in mind. I'm really after night images for this."

"Why's that?"

"The moon and the stars. The way they reflect off the dark glassy lake," Alex explained. "Isn't that just the perfect place to fall in love?"

"A hopeless romantic?"

"Maybe."

"Come on over. It'll be fine. I'll be interested to watch you try and work my Father."

"Not work," Alex protested. "Win over."

They both laughed before getting back to their customers.

oO0Oo

"Well Mr. Arnold, you're a lucky young man," the doctor commented while examining the x-rays of Jasper's hand and wrist. "It doesn't look like anything's broken. What does the other guy look like?"

"Shattered," Pete offered with a smirk from his vantage point at the edge of the closed curtain separating the exam room from the rest of the emergency room. "Glass jaw."

Jasper glared back over his shoulder at his buddy before overly emphasizing that it had only been an accident.

"As long as your accident is not out in my waiting room also requiring treatment," the doctor warned as he returned to Jasper who was sitting atop a gurney in obvious pain.

A deep, visible wince streamed across Jasper's face when the doctor lifted his hand. Now wrapped in a temporary bandage, he turned it carefully to position Jasper's palm facing up.

"I know this is going to hurt, but if you can, I need you to make a fist for me."

Wincing again from a new jolt of pain shooting from his hand and running up through his elbow on its way to his shoulder, Jasper did as he was instructed. Slowly and hesitantly, he pulled his fingers in to form a weak fist. He held it as long as he could, not more than a few seconds, before releasing.

"Good," the doctor told him. "Now I want you to take each finger, one at a time, pull it in and release. Slowly… Slowly." He kept a firm grip on Jasper's wrist and watched closely each action performed. "Good."

"Doc?"

"One minute Mr. Arnold."

Jasper looked on while the doctor, not only wrote extensive notes in his chart, but recorded markings matching the wounds on the front and back of his hand onto printed hand outlines in the chart. When the doctor finished, he ran down the situation for Jasper.

"You're of age, correct Mr. Arnold?"

"Yes," Jasper responded.

"Good. We don't have to wait for a parent or guardian to further authorize treatment."

"No."

"Here's where we are," the doctor proceeded. "The x-rays, you already know, show no broken bones in either the hand or the wrist. Though painful we have good movement in the fingers. You're a very lucky young man Mr. Arnold. Your accident seems to have gone out of its way to avoid severing any nerves or tendons. As such, I don't see any long term after affects of this injuryYou have some lacerations. The minor ones, I'm not too concerned about. The major ones, the deeper ones are a different matter. The bleeding has been stopped. However, we're gonna need to stitch you up to close those.

"You'll be given something for pain now. I'm writing a prescription for you to take with you. It can be filled here at the hospital before you leave. Take them every four to six hours as needed. The nurse will be coming in to show you how to clean your cuts and the areas around the stitches, and show you how to change the bandages. Other than that, keep your hand dry, give it a break for a few days as long as you continue to experience pain; and I want you back in here in a week. If you notice any changes, new bleeding, or increasing pain, don't wait. Get back here immediately. Are you hearing me Mr. Arnold?"

"Yeah. Back here in a week. Anything goes wrong, come back right away," Jasper finally acknowledged, after having taken in everything else the doctor told him without so much as a word.

"Also, no more "glass jaw" battles Mr. Arnold."…

The sun was plunging rapidly and the temperature was following when Jasper, Pete at his side, emerged from the hospital. He was tired and still in some pain. The medication they had given him was wearing off. All Jasper wanted to do now was get home and forget about this whole day; the hospital, the cemetery, Samantha, and especially Alex, at lease for the night.

Pete drove them back to the cemetery where they had left Jasper's damaged car earlier in the day. For a good part of the drive he waited for an explanation from his best friend. Though he realized none would come, he also realized now was not the time to push for one; not yet anyway. Pete didn't know how to help his best friend. An abundance of words from one wasn't necessary to know what was going on with the other. He could only hope that Jasper would come around when he was ready. He noticed, though, Jasper returning to somewhat his old self; his old self since Samantha anyway, very quiet and distant. That, at least, was an improvement. He was pretty much out of it only a couple of hours ago.

Pete's concern as to whether or not Jasper would be able to drive himself home eased. Good, he mused to himself, cause ole Malcolm really would have Jas fixing fence posts 'til he's 90 if he came home without his car and no explanation as to why. But just in case, he'd better follow his "partner in crime" and make sure he gets home okay.

"What are you gonna tell your folks?" Pete's need to know got the better of him finally.

"I'm not going to tell them," Jasper answered sharply.

"Dude! How the hell are you going to hide that?" Pete pointed to the stark white bandages wrapped around Jasper's hand.

"Don't worry about it," was all Jasper would say.

Pete got Jasper back to the cemetery and his car, helped him brush the glass shards off the seats, and followed as he drove himself home. After insuring Jasper made it there okay, Pete took off.

END OF CHAPTER #9

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