"Joe, you don't have to go," said Frank, as Joe was about to follow their parents out of the room. It wasn't like he wanted to see Callie, especially not right now, and he saw no reason why Joe had to leave just because she wanted to see him. Joe looked over at his brother, a little hesitant.
"Err…" He shifted his gaze uncertainly from Frank to Callie, who was hovering nervously at the doorway. He didn't exactly want to leave his brother alone with Callie, but he wasn't sure if he should stay either.
"It… It's alright," Callie said quietly, noticing Frank's detached manner. "I… I just want to apologize."
"For… for not calling the police." she said softly, looking nervously at Frank's impassive face. Frank did not look angry – not at all; though Callie did not know what to make of his expression. If anything, Frank just looked… distant, his usually calm face devoid of emotion.
"You don't need to apologize to me for that," Frank replied stiffly, his voice as dry and emotionless as he looked. Callie winced. Joe laid a hand on Frank's shoulder – calming, reassuring.
"I do. You wouldn't have gotten hurt if…"
Frank shook his head. "You don't," he said obstinately, still in the same flat voice. "You came to get me, remember? I was the one who didn't want to leave. So as far as that is concerned, you're fine. You don't need to apologize."
"Don't. Don't say I don't need to. Please. I owe you an apology,… at least, for the injury. You wouldn't have gotten injured if I had gone to the police in the first place" Callie pleaded, almost in tears. She could tell that Frank was still hurt, and probably angry, over the whole matter, though he wasn't showing it. The cold, detached voice said it all – and it was obvious that he was trying to conceal his feelings.
"Please, Frank. I… I'm sorry, I really am," said Callie in a small voice. "I just… I didn't know what I was thinking…"
Frank was silent a long moment. "What you did almost killed someone, and it's not just me." Callie hung her head, unable to meet his eyes, and Frank sighed. "I guess everyone makes mistakes, but…
As he trailed off, Callie looked up anxiously. But?
"Look Callie, I'd hate to be blunt, but after all this, I don't know. I don't know if we can be close again, or even friends," Frank continued quietly. "It's over, Callie. You know that. And it's going to take a while for the friendship to mend." If it ever mends, he didn't add.
Callie nodded meekly. She got the message in that one word: Friendship. Well, she couldn't really expect anything else, after all that. She had hurt him deeply this time, and she knew it. But at least that's a start…
"You must apologize to Katie too," Frank told her. "You owe her that – much more than you owe me. She almost got killed, because of you and Steve."
Callie chewed her lip. This was going to be difficult. She did not know Katie very well, so naturally she would feel rather awkward apologizing to her. But she nodded anyway.
"That reminds me," mused Frank, when Callie had left the room. "I need to see Kate."
"Later, brother," Joe replied affectionately. "You are supposed to rest. Doctor Bates will kick me out of here if I wheel you upstairs now. Don't worry, she's fine. Vanessa's with her. And so is her family."
It turned out that Frank did not have to go up, for Vanessa had wheeled Katie down in her wheelchair later that evening.
"I guess I ought to thank you," Katie said. "For…uh…" she trailed off, faltering. She bit her lip, not exactly knowing how to phrase her thoughts. Frank's presence had been a great comfort the past two days while they were being held by Shane. And the fact that he was looking out for her all the while. Though, at the same time, she felt really bad that he had gotten hurt…
"For all the help, I guess. And for watching out for me when Shane got a bit too rough..." She looked up with a grateful smile. "Really. Thanks."
Frank shot her a look. "A bit too rough?" He really didn't know whether to be amused or not. If Joe had a knack for exaggerating things, then this girl was sure one for understating them. "Geez, Kate. You call that a bit?" Katie gave a rueful grin.
"Mmm… I guess, you being there helped a lot, really. I would certainly have freaked out if I were alone," she continued, her cheeks flushing. "I… I'm sorry that you got involved though – and that you got hurt…"
Frank laid a gentle hand on the armrest of her wheelchair. Her hands were out of his reach. "Hey, don't be sorry. It isn't your fault," he told her softly. "You're not responsible for what Shane did. And anyway, I'm fine. " He glanced at her feet. "Your leg is okay?"
Katie smiled. "Yeah. It is. Thanks," she said, downplaying the severity again. "I just need to give it a lot of rest, and lots of ice."
"That's good," said Frank, surveying her face. Their eyes met briefly as she looked up, and the girl averted her gaze hurriedly, suddenly feeling her cheeks burn. Frank too, swallowed, and darted his eyes away, studying the stark whiteness of the walls instead. Joe caught their brief exchange, and shook his head. Great. The shy meets the bashful, he groaned.
"Oh yeah, Dad said he's sorry about your van," Katie said, finding her voice at last. She pulled out a van catalog tucked behind her back, and handed it over. "It's somewhat our fault that your van got blown up, so Dad says he'll replace it. I think he's having a word with your dad about it now."
"Wow, cool!" Joe exclaimed, leafing through the catalog. "What are we supposed to do? Pick one from here?"
"Uh huh," nodded Katie. "Just let my dad know when you've decided. And we'll place the order."
"Must it be a van?" Joe asked quickly, with a grin. "Can we have a car instead? Say, a sports convertible?" He gave Vanessa a wink.
Frank chuckled. "No, we can't. Even if her Dad is willing to pay for it, I'd say no. We do stake-outs sometimes, don't forget. We can't have anything too flashy."
"Spoil sport," Joe grumbled, giving his brother a mock scowl, which the older teen pretended not to notice.
"Well, tell your Dad, 'thanks', okay?" said Frank to Katie. He took the booklet from Joe. "I think I'll do the selecting here, before someone gets carried away with all those fancy cars. We want a regular-looking van, and best if it's black, blue or gray."
"Awful, dreary, boring colors," Vanessa commented.
Frank shrugged. "Well, for stake-outs, you need to blend in with the surroundings." To emphasize his point, he flipped the catalog to a page showing a flashy, purple SUV. "And if you are being tailed, you don't want to be driving a homing beacon."
They chatted for a while more, before Katie finally broke her news.
"Uh… I have something to tell you guys," she said, her voice hesitant. "My mom… she's pulling me out of Bayport High. She doesn't think it's safe for me there." Her eyes clouded as she looked up at her friends.
"There's no where perfectly safe for anybody," Frank said softly.
"So where are you going? A strong room?" Joe teased. Vanessa elbowed him with a frown.
"Yeah, a strong room," Katie nodded, her face glum. "I'm going to be home-schooled. Until the end of the year. It's no fun, really. Worse than being grounded."
"So, rebel," was Joe's prompt reply. "Tell your mom you refuse to eat, sleep, or do anything else until she lets you back in."
"Joe!" Frank protested, just about the same time as the girls said, "Good idea!" Frank threw his brother a scathing look as the girls laughed, though he couldn't resist a chuckle of his own.
"Well, yeah, that sucks," he agreed. "But, cheer up. You're still going to be in Bayport, right? We'll keep in touch. Don't worry, we'll spring you from prison from time to time." He gave the girl a wink.
"She's a sweeet girl, huh?" Joe grinned at Frank, as they watched the two girls depart.
Frank recognized his brother's teasing tone at once. "Who? Vanessa?" he asked, playing dumb. "Yeah, you've said that a million times."
"Well, yes! Vanessa's a great gal, of course. But come on. You know I wasn't talking about Van. So, you're gonna spring her from prison huh? For a date? I knew you were dying to ask her out. Ever since you treated her sprain…"
Ever since you teased her for being a geek, and she shook my hand and gave me that grin, Frank admitted silently. No, if he was completely honest with himself – since that first day he caught her sheepish grin as she glanced at the clock, and realized she was late for the school counsellor. He had thought his heart had skipped a beat – something that he hadn't felt in a long time. Then, the shock when they had learnt that it was her car; and the pang he'd felt when he saw her pale, unhappy face when they were all in that room with Liz Webling. If circumstances had permitted, or if only he had known her longer, he would have crossed the room and pulled her into a hug. But of course, he wasn't going to tell Joe all that…
So, he pretended not to hear his brother. Instead, he turned his attention back to the van catalog and flipped the pages. "Hmm," he mused aloud, purposefully ignoring Joe's comment. As much as he cared for the girl, he was also aware that the chances of seeing her again were pretty slim, now that she was leaving school. Perhaps he could talk her parents out of the home-school idea…
Pushing all thoughts of the girl from his mind, he tried to concentrate on the task at hand – selecting their next van. "This black one doesn't look too bad. Or that gray one…"
"Uh-uh!" Joe countered almost at once. "This red one looks way cooler. Sporty!" He jabbed his finger at a signal-red SUV further down the page. Frank rolled his eyes, and swatted the catalog at his brother.
"Joe, we're not looking for a fire truck, okay?" he scolded. Joe grinned annoyingly back at him.
"Geez. How could you ever call it a fire truck, Frank? Just look at the headlamps! It's gorgeous! We'll take this one." His mischievous blue-eyes were flashing vividly at his brother, as if challenging the older boy to argue.
"Yes way." Grinning.
"Joe, I'm not driving a fire truck all over town!"
"No one says you need to. I'll drive." Jerked his thumb at himself and grinned mischievously again.
"Over my dead body." Frank's voice was almost a growl.
"Aww, why?" A whine.
"We're not getting that one. And that's final. So, you may as well forget it."
"But why not?"
"Why?" Frank resisted the urge to clobber his brother on the head. "I've told you! Stake-outs!"
"So? We'll do our stake-outs in a fire truck." And gleefully stuck his tongue out.
"Joe!" An exasperated groan escaped his lips.
"Okay okay. Black. We'll spray it black then."
This time, Frank double-took. "What?" he spluttered. Now where did that come from? You wanna get a red van, then spray it black? Brand new?
Joe's laughter echoed around the room. Suddenly the door creaked open and a nurse's stern voice floated in. "Boys, be quiet there, please. This is a hospital…"
A/N: So, we're finally done with our first fanfic. Thank you for reading. We hope you enjoyed the story. (and we hope we didn't disappoint anyone here.) For those who have read and reviewed, thanks again for your reviews. Your kind words of support have been a great encouragement to us.
Sorry about Callie. We don't actually hate her. On the contradictory, we rather liked her, though we'd prefer to see her more as an individual and a character, rather than just being Frank's girlfriend.
So we're toying with the idea of a second story – that continues from here, maybe to bring Callie back as a bigger character. The only problem is, we're lacking a good mystery plot for it. We'll write it as soon as we come up with a good case for them… and as soon as we have the time.
By the way, we're renaming the title to Hatred Games. Think it sounds better.