(See the first chapter for disclaimer, notes, spoiler, etc.)
Chapter 38: "Sunlight"
"They're here, Daddy! They're here!"
Gregory followed his daughter to the front door and opened it. "Settle down, Caity," he said, looking up into the eager smiles of his wife's two friends. "Ladies, good afternoon."
"Gregory," Bette said, offering him a small but polite smile as she ushered Annie into the house. "Come on girls, we've got a lot of decorating to do."
Paula Stevens followed behind them, juggling two large shopping bags filled to the brim with balloons and streamers. Elaine came in last, clutching a large covered dish. "Hello, Gregory."
He nodded, closing the door behind them. Caitlin danced after them, watching as Bette placed Emily's car seat on the floor. "I get to come to the party for our new baby!" she jabbered, watching with wide eyes as Bette unloaded the bags.
"Well, of course you get to come! You're the big sister!" Bette smiled down at her as she took her by the hand and led her over to Paula and Annie. "But you three go outside and play while we get everything ready."
"Bette, I'll be in the kitchen," Elaine called out as she disappeared down the hall.
Gregory followed the girls out to the patio and stood in the doorway, his hands deep in his pockets. He watched the girls run down to the grass, Caitlin's golden hair streaming in the sunlight. From the doors that led to the dining room, he saw one of Morris' men step out and lean against the door jamb, watching the girls. Satisfied, he turned back into the house as Bette said, "Where's Livy?"
"Upstairs, taking a nap."
She nodded, unwrapping a roll of yellow crepe paper. "She feeling alright?"
He nodded as she glanced up, her eyebrow arched. "Fine. Just…tired." His thigh brushed against the sofa and he sat on the arm, remembering the way Olivia gasped in his arms. The way she caressed his face, kissing him deeply as his hands cupped her bottom.
Bette watched a small smirk unfold on his face as he gazed blindly at the sofa. "Tired, hmm?"
He glanced up to see her green eyes sparkle. "Yes," he said, standing. "Her doctor told her to get a little exercise."
She couldn't help but chuckle as she began folding the strands of yellow and white crepe paper together. "I doubt Doc Robinson had that kind of exercise in mind."
Gregory only smiled in reply as he stood, walking past her. "I'll leave you to your decorations," he said. His hand was on the banister when he turned back to her. "Thank you for doing this for Liv." She nodded, a brief smile gracing her lips before she turned back to the streamers.
He climbed the stairs quickly, the carpet runner swallowing his steps. The door to his bedroom yielded with barely a creak as he opened it slowly. Making his way quietly to the bed, he saw Olivia breathing deeply. A beam of sunlight held her in its grasp, her dark hair flowing around her on the pillow.
Slowly, he leaned over her, kissing her forehead. Her lips parted as she sighed in her sleep, her cheeks blushed to a healthy rose-colored hue. He crouched next to the bed, his hand covering hers. Her chest rose and fell evenly and he sighed in relief as he smoothed the blanket covering her. "I love you," he whispered, tucking her hand beneath the folds.
He watched her as she slept peacefully, finally free and content from the waking hours that haunted them. He imagined the way her eyes opened, the blue glazed over with sleep as she smiled up at him. The way she reached up, her fingers combing through his hair to cup his face. The way her hand felt on his cheek and the way he leaned into the warmth, willing to surrender himself to her for eternity. The way it felt when she looked at him, lavishing him with love and adoration. The way her lips curled when she spoke three simple words, words that still had the power to stop his heart in his chest.
"I love you," he repeated under his breath. "More than life."
Jeannie Harris leaned back into the cushions, exhaling deeply. The quiet of the house surrounded and weighed down on her. Oppressive. With a grimace, she pressed her fingertips into her temples, rubbing gently. Icy pain shot through her skull, making her grimace as a pair of frightened blue eyes haunted her.
She sat forward, her head in her hands as she leaned over her knees. Her eyes narrowed as she read the letter again, her lips silently forming the words written on the pale pink stationery.
You're all mine again. Mine and mine alone. No one else can take you away from me again.
She reached out, gently tracing the edge of the letter with her fingertip. "What does it mean?" she sighed, drawn to the last sentences again and again, like an alcoholic to the bottle. "Why did you give this to me?"
Whatever you think about us, you're wrong.
She flinched, Olivia's wounded voice ringing out like a cry in the night. In an instant, she was back at the park, gazing into the eyes of the woman she was convinced was a murder twice over.
Her own dark eyes flew open as a mind-bending revelation washed over her like a wave. Dizzy, she sat back and closed her eyes, hiding from the disturbing pink letter. She breathed deep, her chest rising and falling shakily. Yet, with each breath, a profound truth grew in her: she was wrong.
Olivia Richards was innocent. Somehow, she knew it. There was no proof. Indeed, the evidence she had more than strongly made the case that the woman killed her husband's secretary and his mistress. Yet, Jeannie's hand tingled from when Olivia had gripped it, clandestinely passing her the pink letter. Held her hand and begged for help…like a victim, not a perpetrator.
Like a mother, terrified for her children.
You have to help us.
Like a woman, terrified for herself…and her husband.
She shrugged, her mind suddenly clear and open to a strange possibility. If Olivia was innocent, why couldn't Gregory be too?
An uncomfortable feeling twisted in her stomach and she stood slowly, hugging herself. Everything was muddled up, through and through. All of those psychology classes, putting herself through the grinding schedule of night school and for what? To blow her first big opportunity because of her own nerves and delusions.
"I let the case get away from me," she whispered, looking down at the pink letter. What was it at its core? A double homicide, both victims stabbed to death. And, they had Gregory Richards in common. But that was it. Or was it?
Mine and mine alone. No one else can take you away from me again.
It was a woman's handwriting. Olivia's? She paused for a long moment, listening to her gut instinct. No, it couldn't be. It was too…messy to be the handwriting of Olivia Richards. But, validation was easy enough to prove. Olivia's handwriting was on file, along with her statements on Nancy and Cashlin's murders.
There was no way to prove her sudden change of heart. In an instant, Olivia went from prime suspect to innocent. But, Jeannie knew it. She felt it in her bones, radiating from the core of her soul.
And she knew she had to make it right. She reached for the phone, dialing a familiar number. "Morales?" she said, slipping the pink letter into a plastic evidence bag. "I know it's our afternoon off, but I need you to meet me at the station."
The breeze is gentle against me, my feet sinking into the warm sand as I stand still. Ahead of me, the ocean roared, foamy mist spraying in the air as the strong waves crashed into the shore.
Around me, I was lost in a sea of people. Spectators filled the beach, waiting for the line of sailboats to make their way out of the marina. The annual regatta was one of the town's biggest events and always drew a sizable crowd.
I turn slowly, ignoring the cheer that goes up as the first boat appeared in the bay. The three-story house stood magnificent, palm trees lining the patio like sentries. Through the gate, I could see the pool glistening like a sapphire in the sunlight. It pulls me in and I let it, lost in the lure of it's sparkle.
The crowd falls away from me as I near the house, hugging the wall as I follow the perimeter of the property. On the other side, I hear the laughter of little girls, one of them saying, "Ok, I'm It now. Go hide."
"Come on, Caitlin," I hear another say and my heart flips, listening as giggling faded away.
"Yes," I whisper, my hands brushing against the lock of the side gate. "Come, Caitlin. Come to me."
Olivia glanced over her shoulder to find her husband standing in the doorway of their bedroom. She nodded, running a brush through her hair as he crossed the room to her. His warm hands rested on her shoulders as she turned back to the mirror. "I didn't think I'd sleep that long," she admitted softly as his hands gently massaged her.
"Oh, I'd say you earned it."
Their eyes met in the mirror, amusement coloring her voice as she said, "You mean I worked for it."
He chuckled, his hands dropping down to her bare arms. "Whatever," he chuckled beneath his breath as she looked up, her head falling back. He leaned down, her lips warm as he captured them. A moment later he felt her hands on his face, drawing him closer. "What do you say," he asked between a kiss, "we sneak out the back door and escape to The Splendour?"
She sighed dreamily as she pushed herself away from the table and turned on the bench to face him. "Oh, Bette and Elaine would never forgive me," she explained, reaching out for his hands.
He fell to his knees before her, pressing her hands to her belly and covering them with his own. The child within her kicked eagerly and he couldn't help but smile, looking up. "See? She agrees with me."
"Tomorrow," she promised, their fingers threading together. She watched him for a long moment, his expression drawn as he looked back at her. Gently, she cupped his face and looked deep into his bloodshot eyes as his fingers grazed her knees. "You're exhausted," she said softly and she felt him start against her.
He shrugged and was about to dismiss her observation when he saw the concern brimming in her eyes. "A little," he admitted reluctantly, her fingertips dancing along his hairline.
She nodded, combing through his hair as she listened to him sigh. "There. That wasn't so hard to admit, was it?" she asked softly, a small grin coming to her face. Her arms curled around his neck as he stood, helping her up. His face screwed up as she rested her palms on his chest. "Hmm?"
"I just want to make you happy," he whispered as her hands covered his heart.
"Honesty makes me happy." She leaned against him, tucking her head beneath his chin. "Try and get some rest, Gregory. Please?"
He kissed her forehead, willing to give her the moon and stars if it pleased her. "That's all?"
She looked up, gazing at him with such intensity that his chest tightened. Her skin was luminous, free of make-up and glowing in the afternoon sunlight. "For now," she finally said, comfortable and warm in his embrace. "Promise me?"
"Yes," he said, leaning forward to kiss her nose. "I'll get you settled downstairs and then I'll get some sleep."
"Thank you, darling," she said, leaning against him as he led her out of the bedroom. His arm went around her, hugging her close as they walked down the hall and began the slow descent to the first floor. "Make sure you make yourself a plate though," she said turning to him as the staircase turned sharply. "You need to eat too."
He chuckled as she gripped the banister. "Should I eat first? Or sleep?"
She cocked her head, her brow furrowed as she smirked at him. "Sleep, of course. It would be awful if you passed out from exhaustion and landed face first in your lunch."
"Of course," he agreed graciously. She shook her head indulgently as they stepped onto the first floor. The living room was transformed, full of balloons and streamers in delicate pastel shades. "All you need is the Easter bunny," he muttered beneath his breath and she poked him in the side. "What?"
"Bette, it looks lovely," Olivia called out. She watched as her friend turned around, her face pale. "It really does and- are you alright?"
Gregory looked past Bette as Elaine came in from the patio, looking grave. On either side of her was Paula and Annie, their eyes wide and frightened. An ominous feeling twisted in his stomach as he looked at the young girls. "Where's Caitlin?"
Olivia watched her two friends exchange a long glance before Bette finally stepped forward, twisting her hands. Next to her, she felt Gregory stiffen and she turned to him, confused. "Livy," she heard her friend begin and she turned back to her, listening as she explained, "we called the girls in. We wanted to get them cleaned up and changed into new clothes before the guests started to arrive."
His heart pounded in his chest and he looked down at his wife, watching as realization flickered in her face. "Only Paula and Annie came in," he heard Bette say as his wife stepped away from him.
She brushed past her friend, her hands trembling as she made her way through the living room to the patio. "Caity hates having to come in. She always puts up a fight," she stuttered, still wanting to believe as she stood in the open doorway. "Caitlin!"
The sunlight was warm on her as she stepped outside, her bare feet curling on the sun-warmed stone. She heard her voice echo for a moment before it was swallowed up by the gentle wind. Her throat tightened as her eyes swept the patio, the outdoor space eerily silent and deserted. "Caitlin!" she called again, her pitch rising.
From inside the house, she heard Gregory call out for Morris and her chest began to ache as she struggled to catch her breath. "C-Caitlin! CAITLIN!"