Matt was holding four straws in his hands. Peter was the first to pull and Lindsay was second. LQ Cooper was the third and the fourth stayed in Matt's hand. They compared the straws and Lindsay sighed in disappointment. She always lost when straws had to be drawn and do the job no one wanted to do. Losing that particular straw drawing meant that she had to go to the lake and place leech traps. It was a pretty disgusting assignment as well as a very scary one for her, because she feared mucous creatures like slugs and leeches, especially mega-leeches like the ones that lived in the lake, and was usually hysterical when she encountered such a creature. The mega-leeches resembled to little mucous-dripping snakes and they were quite harmful. Three people died as a result of the mega-leeches' bites.
"Most normal leeches are nourished from meat of bugs and sometimes small animals; some are nourished by blood of mammals, including humans." LQ explained to the team on the previous day when they first saw the leeches. They were barely able to evacuate the three bodies of the bitten men they had discovered not far from the Nova Lake, because the leeches were attached to the men's bodies and were still sucking blood out of them. "A leech has ten eyes and very good senses. They can hear us coming from a great distance. And the fact that man is a noisy creature doesn't give us a very big advantage." Before going out on the way Lindsay got a tip from LQ. "If you're attacked, do not panic." He said, not being aware of the panic attack she knew she will have if she's attacked by a mega-leech. "Do not attempt to rip the leech off your body." He said and gave her a syringe. Stick this into the leech's body. It's the tranquilizer we use in a gun. Then shake the leech off. I only have two syringes for you, so you better run away even if only one leech attacks you." He instructed her on how to place the traps and she went on the way.
It took her almost an hour to reach the lake and she unpacked her backpack where the traps were and started setting them near the water when she saw a big brown mucous leech, about a meter long setting upon her. The leech stuck to her arm and to her surprise, Lindsay didn't feel pain. She gasped in horror and tried to avoid screaming. LQ has warned her to keep her cool and not make much noise so it would not draw leeches, or in this case more leeches. She took one syringe out of her pocket and stuck it into the leech's body. A yellowish gooey liquid stuck to her hand. She fought the will to insert her hand into the water and wash the disgusting material off her hand, but knew there might be more leeches in the water, waiting to attack. She sighed and removed the leech off her hand. The creature fell into the water, spraying water all over Lindsay's clothes. She was about to get up and leave the place, but a sloppy movement made the leech trap close on her fingers. She moaned in pain and tried to release her hand from the trap. When she finally managed to pull her bleeding fingers from the vicious metal device, she saw three leeches sucking at her arm. She let out a scream of horror and felt her heartbeat speeding and her head spinning. Her vision became blurry and her cheeks were burning. The last thing she saw before passing out was the slimy creatures crawling towards her.
She could smell sweet dough being baked even before she woke up. Her eyelids fluttered open and shut, as if they were begging for a few more moments of sleep. It took a while before she could open her eyes and focus her gaze at a certain point. She threw the blanket that smelled like lemongrass aside and got up. Noticing a few blood covered bandages on her arms and legs, she remembered what LQ explained to the team about leech bites.
"A leech bite usually keeps bleeding for a few hours because leeches secrete an anticoagulant into the blood." Lindsay was not a zoologist, but she assumed that the bigger the leech is, the longer the bleeding will last.
"That's just great." She mattered angrily. She hated slimy and mucous creatures and she hated even more to be bit by them. Even the thought about them made her want to throw up. Just then, the door was opened and an old woman went into the room.
"You're awake." The woman said and Lindsay could hear the relief in her hoarse voice. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I was beaten by giant leeches." Lindsay replied.
"That's very unpleasant, I know. But luckily, you're alive. Those wounds aren't as bad as they look like." The old woman said. "By the way, I'm Mania." She introduced herself. She handed Lindsay a blue cotton robe and motioned towards the door. Lindsay wore the robe and followed her out of the room.
The moment she saw Mania in the light she knew that it was better if she didn't come out of the room. Mania's face was so wrinkled that it was impossible to even guess how old she was. Her eyes were brown and glazy, her teeth were yellow and she was wearing an embroidered kerchief over her thin white hair. She was quite tall and thin and she wore a long brown skirt and a white shirt. Her black shoes made a loud noise as she dragged her legs on the parquet floor. She put a cup of strong smelling tea and a plate with a thick slice of buttered bread in front of Lindsay. "You did not introduce yourself." She stated. Even though she said it in a harsh tone, Lindsay did not get the feel that Mania was angry at her for being rude and not introducing herself.
"I'm Lindsay Donner." She could barely hear her own voice, but it seemed like Mania heard it.
"Are you with the group of scientists?" Mania asked. Lindsay nodded slowly. "So you're a scholar." She stated. "What did you learn?"
"I have a double master in psychology and biology from Oxford." Lindsay replied.
"Oxford," Mania repeated the word. "You are lucky. In my time, girls didn't go to university. We stayed at home and did the cleaning and cooking. Oh, the world changed so much since then. It's been more than eighty years since I finished high school." Lindsay's eyes widened as the woman said that sentence. If she calculated right, Mania was almost hundred years old. "Drink your tea, before it gets cold." The old woman forced herself to focus on the present. Lindsay curled her fingers around the white clay mug and picked it off the table. It was heavy and almost slipped out of her hand. The tea was slightly sour and by the taste Lindsay assumed that it was herb tea. Mania went out of the kitchen and came back with a small basket that was full of rolled bandages. She put it on the table and took a seat in front of Lindsay. Gently, Mania took one bandage off Lindsay's arm and replaced it with a clean one. Only then, Lindsay noticed the Mania's fingers were crooked and that her palms were scarred. Nevertheless, Mania's hands worked quickly and replaced the bandages one by one. "You have to keep those wounds very clean, because it doesn't stop bleeding for a while." Mania said. She disinfected the wounds with alcohol before bandaging them and the sting of it on her raw flesh made Lindsay hiss in pain. "And I want you to stay here until the bleeding stops." Lindsay nodded slowly. It was a very odd thing for her staying in a stranger's house and she felt a bit uneasy. "You must be tired. Eat the bread and go to rest." Lindsay smiled at her shyly. She was at a loss of words, not knowing what she could say to the old woman or how she got into this weird situation. She bit the bread and chewed slowly. It was homemade. She could tell, it was sweeter than regular bread and even though it was made of white flour it had the smell of a red brick stove.
"For how long have you been living here?" Lindsay asked. For a hundred years old woman, Mania was quite modern. Her house was looking like a typical suburb home, even though it was placed in the middle of a forest and there was electricity.
"I was born in this house, if you can believe it. I'm older then any of the nearby towns." Mania stated with pride. "Where are you and your scientist friends are from?"
"We're from all over the country. I'm originally from Belleville, two come from Burke, one comes from Bell Island, and one is from New York. All of us currently live in Toronto, though." Lindsay replied.
"It must be hard living far from your hometown. All of the money in the world couldn't make me leave this precious forest and this house. I know it's not big and impressive and that I have no running water and that it's far from town and I have to buy groceries for a month every time I go for shopping, but it's cozy and neat." Mania said.
"It wasn't hard for me to leave my hometown. I got nothing left there. My mother died years ago and my father has been traveling all over the world ever since I could remember. He remarried ten years ago, but I don't get along with his new wife, so I don't come into their home much." Lindsay said.
"That's sad. If someone would have to keep me away from here, I'd die for sure. I never left this house for more than a day." Mania said.
"Really? You never traveled anywhere?" Lindsay was amazed. She wondered what it was like living in the same house for a hundred years.
"Yes. I have many memories here. I was born here, spent my childhood here, married here, my daughters grew up here and my grandchildren come here with their children every summer and every holiday. I had a good life in this house and I won't leave it until my dying day."
"But you never wanted to travel even a bit? You never wanted to see places like the coliseum or the London Bridge or the Palace of Versailles?" Lindsay asked.
"I could see all those places in my television. I don't need to travel to the other side of the world in order to see those places." Mania smiled widely. Lindsay thought it was weird. How could this woman compare television to sightseeing? "You look exhausted, why don't you go to sleep?" Mania asked. Lindsay nodded slowly and went into the room where she woke up earlier. She took a seat on the bed and sighed. She wondered how far she is from the lake and if her colleagues were looking for her already. She assumed that it has been two hours from the moment she passed out until now. Mania probably found her a few minutes after she fell to the ground and she remembered vaguely being pulled off the ground and being sat in an old car. She never remembered being stripped off her clothes and being dressed with a white T-shirt and matching white shorts. She also wondered why Mania had this pair of shorts anyway, because she couldn't imagine a hundred years old woman wearing them. She guessed it must have belonged to one of her grandchildren or their children.
Not bothering to take the robe off, she lay down on her side and brought her knees to her chest. She was not really tired, but felt it would be impolite if she wouldn't accept Mania's offers. She sent her arm forward and examined the three bandages that were skillfully wrapped around it. One bandage was wrapped around her wrist and was so tight that she could barely move it. Her fingers which got caught in the leech trap were covered with thick band aids and big gauze was covering another wound that was located a few centimeters under her elbow. She remembered the moments she released her sore fingers from the trap and found three leeches stuck to her arm. Just the thought of that made her feel the paralyzing fear that made her pass out earlier. The leeches also bit her in her waist and in her legs, but those bites were smaller. She sighed, hoping that she'll be able to go back to the mobile lab soon and go on with the investigation and hoped even more that she won't be the one who has to go and put the leech traps in the lake again. With those thoughts in mind, she fell asleep.
She woke up an hour later and went into the kitchen, where she saw Mania reading a book.
"How are you feeling?" She asked when she saw Lindsay.
"Much better, thank you." Lindsay replied. She was feeling fresh as if she was never beaten by giant leeches and never fainted from the fear. "I think I'm strong enough to go back. I don't want my colleagues to worry about me."
"Are you sure?" Mania asked and Lindsay thought she heard some sadness in her voice.
"Yes, I would like to get out of the forest before darkness falls. I had enough scary experiences for one day and I wouldn't like to fall into a pit or something." Lindsay said.
"Of course, we wouldn't like you to get hurt again." Mania smiled. "But I would like you to drink another cup of tea with me before you leave."
"Of course." Lindsay said. She couldn't tell for sure, but guessed that Mania was looking for someone with whom she can converse. Lindsay noticed that Mania was a talkative woman and had interest in people. She took a seat in front of the old woman and smiled. "What were you reading when I came in?" She asked.
"I wasn't reading; I was browsing in an old album. I do it a lot lately." Mania replied. "I don't read much, because I can't see as well as I used to. Would you like to see some of the photos?" Lindsay nodded. Mania put the album on the table and pointed at one picture. "This is me when I was about your age. And this is my husband Louis, may he rest in peace and my daughters Marie and Antonia. Both of them passed away a few years ago of old age. Look how pretty they were." Mania looked at the picture with longing eyes. "Do you have children, Lindsay?"
"Not yet. I'm unmarried." Lindsay replied.
"A pretty girl like you shouldn't have a problem in finding a good man." Mania smiled.
"I will find him someday." Lindsay replied, "He has to be somewhere, right?"
"Of course he is. Come on, I'll let you look at those photographs while I make you some tea." Mania said and got up. Lindsay looked at the old black and white pictures. It was a very interesting to see how the house changed over the years, how pretty Mania used to be, how much her daughters looked like her and how peaceful her family seemed to be in the little forest. "Here you go." Mania put a cup of steaming tea in front of Lindsay.
"Thank you." Lindsay smiled and pointed at one picture. "Is this the lake?" She asked.
"Yes, it used to be bigger, but some of it had to be dried in order to build the nearby towns." Mania replied.
"So you've seen the place change over the years. That must be exciting, to live through all of those changes." Lindsay said and took a long sip from her tea.
"I've lived too many years and seen too many changes, my dear. I could write a book about it. I'd call it 'The House on the Lake'. Wouldn't that be a romantic title?"
"I'd be the first buyer." Lindsay said.
"I'm afraid I won't live much longer to write it, but you can always come and listen to my stories. I'm a great storyteller." Mania smiled.
"I would like it very much." Lindsay smiled and leaned her elbow on the table. "Tell me something now."
"A few months before I graduated from high school, I had to write a term paper about a historical person, someone who's memorable." Mania started, "And I chose Marie Antoinette. She seemed to be a very interesting and extraordinary person to write about. Soon, I became obsessed with her. Her life story was so tragic and I thought that I should be the one person who will immortalize her. The first thing I did was buying a dog and calling him Schnitzy. She had a dog that carried that name and it was the only thing she was allowed to bring with her from Austria to France. I swore to myself that this dog will come with me anywhere I go, the way her dog did. He was a pretty dog and very smart too. He would sleep by my bed and follow me anywhere I went. When my daughters were born, I named them after her. One was named Marie and the other was named Antonia, which was her middle name and I even married a man named Louis, like she did, but of course I didn't choose him by the name. And you know what else?" Mania watched at the smiled that was spread across Lindsay's face with joy.
"What?" Lindsay asked with amusement.
"Till this day, I bake bread in her honor, because, unlike what people think, she was generous and was not showy and spoiled. I call it Marie's bread." Mania finished her story.
"This is certainly a story that should be included in your book." Lindsay smiled and took the last sip from her tea.
"If you knew how many of those I have." Mania said and patted Lindsay's arm gently. "You better get dressed and get going before nightfall. The woods can be tricky at night. Your clothes are in the closet in the room where you slept." Lindsay nodded and went into the little room. She opened the closet, took her clothes out and wore them quickly. She thanked Mania for her treatment and went out of the house.
She walked in the forest for nearly an hour until she found the mobile lab. She entered the code and the door opened.
"Lindsay, you have no idea how worried we were. Where were you?" Peter asked and put his hand on her shoulder.
"I was beaten by the leeches and I panicked and passed out. An old lady who lives in the forest took care of me." Lindsay said and stretched her arm forward in order for her colleagues to see the bandages. "The bad news is that I couldn't get any of the leech traps in place. One trap even caught my fingers."
"It's okay. The important thing is that you weren't killed by those creatures." Matt said. "Are you feeling well?"
"Sort of. I feel a bit woozy but it's probably because I lost some blood. The bleeding didn't stop yet, but it's starting to coagulate." Lindsay replied.
"I'd like Claire to take a look at your wounds when we're back at the motel." Matt said.
"She's not here?" Lindsay asked in surprise.
"No, she's performing autopsy on the bodies." Matt replied. Lindsay nodded. "But LQ is here and I'm sure he'd like to hear about the leeches you saw."
"Sure, I won't mind describing them to him."
"He caught some bug he hasn't seen before and he's studying it. You know where to find him." Peter said. Lindsay smiled and went to where LQ was standing and examining something that was in a small aquarium.
"LQ," She said his name softly. She was fond of the short, squirrelly zoologist who ardently studied any forms of life he came across. His enthusiasm to challenge his knowledge in the world of zoology and cryptozoology was something she admired, learned from him and applied in her own field of expertise. He turned around and looked at her.
"Lindsay, I'm glad you're here. Come see what I caught in the woods." He said and pointed at the aquarium. Lindsay looked into it. "It's a Fire-Wing butterfly. It's very rare." He smiled widely. Lindsay looked at the butterfly. Its wings were red, yellow and orange and the pattern on it looked like flames. She could easily understand where it got its name.
"He's beautiful." She said, captivated by the extraordinary creature. "You're not gonna kill it, are you?" She asked.
"Of course not. Does this beauty look like it was meant to be dried and hanged in someone's office? I'm going to set it free after I'll study it." LQ stated.
"I'd like to join you."
"Gladly, Lindsay. It's an once-in-a-lifetime experience." LQ replied. "And to our business. Did you set the traps?"
"No, the only trap I was able to set caught my fingers and is now useless. But a few of them bit me, so I was able to see them." Lindsay replied.
"They bit you? Are you okay?" LQ's expression changed into a horrified gaze.
"It wasn't that bad." She said, "It wasn't as scary as the parasites in Russia."
"The parasites in Russia…" LQ mumbled. "When you think about it, they looked a bit like leeches." He said.
"No, they were bigger and they did much more damage. At least the leeches aren't contagious and even though being bitten by them wasn't a pleasure, I'd rather being bitten by them and not by the parasite that bit you and killed Connor." Lindsay stated.
"You're right, Lindsay. I like your way of thinking." He smiled widely. "So how did those leeches look like?"
"They were really big." Lindsay replied.
"About a meter long each. And they were slimy and dark brown. They were in the water, not on the ground and when I put my hand in the water, they actually jumped on me, as if they were waiting there all the time." Lindsay described.
Yes, leeches are tricky. Were you bleeding a lot after they bit you?"
"Yes. My wounds are pretty big and they're still bleeding, although it's not as strong as it was earlier." Lindsay said.
"How do the wounds look like?" LQ asked.
"It looks like a circle with a Y in it." Lindsay replied. "It looks like the devil marked me or something." She joked.
"That means that the leeches that bit you had teeth." LQ stated.
"I thought they all have teeth." Lindsay smiled. LQ shook his head.
"Not all of them have teeth. Some kinds of leeches use other techniques to make an incision in the skin and suck blood from their host." He said. "The kind you're describing seems to be Gnathobdellae."
"Gnatho-what?" Lindsay asked. If there was something weirder than the fact that there were giant leeches in the lake was the fact that they had unpronounceable name.
"I know it sounds complicated." LQ smiled. Just then, they heard Peter's voice.
"Linds, Matt said we're done for today and we can go back to the motel." He informed her.
"Oh, I'm so glad this day is over." Lindsay sighed. "Come on LQ, we'll leave the leeches for tomorrow." LQ nodded and followed her to the locker room. They grabbed their backpacks from their lockers and went out of the mobile lab, locking it behind them.
Lindsay stood in front of the mirror and brushed her wet hair. She was wearing her comfortable pajama and felt the water dripping from her hair to the soft cloth and wetting it. Claire was sitting on her bed and looking at Lindsay.
"Linds, Matt wanted me to take a look at your wounds and see if their not infected." Claire said.
"Sure, in a moment." Lindsay was fighting a very vicious knot in her hair and it was quite painful. She stuck her fingers in it and tried to pull it, but it resulted in her hair being torn off and she sighed. "Okay, I give up." She said and put the hairbrush down. She walked over to the other side of the room and took a seat on Claire's bed. There was a first aid bag thrown on the bed.
"Where did they bit you?" She asked Lindsay who stretched her arm forward to show her the bandaged wounds. Claire took the bandage off Lindsay's wrist and examined it. "That's funny, Linds. It looked like a Y inside a circle." She said.
"I know. LQ said this is how he's able to recognize what type of leeches bit me."
"Oh, well. I wanna disinfect it." Claire said and took a disinfectant out of the first aid bag. She poured some on a piece of cotton wool and rubbed the wound with it.
"Ouch, Claire! It stings." Lindsay called out.
"I know, Linds, but what do you want me to do about it?" Claire grinned.
"You could warn me before you put this thing on my arm." Lindsay replied.
"Oh, come on, Lindsay. Act like a grownup." Claire said and continued disinfecting the wounds. "Are you feeling well?"
"Yes. I'm a little dizzy and nauseous, but other than that I'm fine." Lindsay replied.
After Claire finished disinfecting the wounds, she checked Lindsay's temperature and blood pressure.
"Well, you're running a little fever, but it looks like you're fine." She said. "But I'd like you to take Tylenol in order to bring your fever down." Lindsay nodded and Claire took a bottle of Tylenol out of the first aid kit and gave one pill to her. Lindsay took it and they went to sleep.
The curtains in the little motel room did not prevent the first sunrays from invading the room and wake Claire up. Slowly, she rose from her bed and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and take a shower. It was 7:30 AM when she came out of the shower and she was about to be late and worse, Lindsay was still asleep. She went over to Lindsay's bed and put her hand on Lindsay's shoulder, noticing that she looked pale.
"Wake up, Linds. We have to go to work." She said. She shook her gently, but Lindsay did not move. "Lindsay?" She put her hand on Lindsay's forehead that was cold as if someone washed it with ice water. "Lindsay," She repeated her name louder but no response came from her colleague. Quickly pulling her stethoscope out of her bag and tried to listen to Lindsay's heart and lungs, but failed to hear any sound. Realizing that her colleague was in a dangerous state, she called 911 and described her situation to the emergency service.
Lindsay was taken to the nearest hospital that was half an hour away from the motel and was also located out town. Claire notified Peter, Matt and LQ Cooper about Lindsay's condition only after she arrived at the hospital and was now waiting for them in the entrance to the facility. Sipping coffee from a big paper cup, she sighed. Lindsay was okay the previous evening. Could it be that she misdiagnosed her colleague's condition? Could it be that she did not notice an infection or gave her the wrong pill or maybe used too much disinfectant? Did she spend seven years in med school just so she would have to perform autopsy on Lindsay? She couldn't help smiling, remembering why she chose to practice pathology in the first place. Dead people tell tales, and she wanted to be the one to expose them. But she never ever wanted her co-workers to be the ones telling those tales. She lighted a cigarette, knowing that this was the only was she would be able to calm her loose nerves. The cigarette burned down fast and she was about to light another one when she saw Matt and Peter walking over to where she was standing.
"Claire, how is she?" Peter asked.
"The doctors are still working on her. They're trying to find out what happened." Claire replied.
"But she felt well yesterday, didn't she? She told us that she feels well." Peter stated. "She was a bit woozy, but she said that she could deal with that."
"She also felt nauseous and she was running a fever." Claire said. "But her heart and lungs sounded fine yesterday and her blood pressure was also normal. I assumed that she was fine and gave her Tylenol to bring the fever down. I don't know what went wrong."
"Oh, come on, Claire. I'm sure it's not your fault. Maybe those leeches carry bacteria that were transferred to her blood, or something. Whatever it is, I'm sure that she'll be okay. You know Lindsay, she doesn't give up easily." Matt comforted her.
"Yeah, Claire. Lindsay will make it." Peter said. Claire sighed.
"Let's just go to the waiting room to wait for news about her." She said and they stared walking upstairs, to wait at the small uncomfortable room that bordered with the OR where the doctors fought in order to save Lindsay's life.
It wasn't long before a doctor in his late 50's came into the room. His face was blank, therefore none of them could guess what he was about to say.
"Is Lindsay okay?" Peter didn't wait for him to even introduce himself. The doctor nodded slowly.
"What happened to her?" Claire asked.
"Lindsay was poisoned by a substance called Lerexid. It's used in making paint and is very dangerous to humans." He started, "And most chances are that she would be dead by now if she didn't get here on time. She is still in critical condition; therefore she will stay anesthetized until she is out of danger."
"Can we see her?" Matt asked.
"She is being transferred to the ICU at the moment, but you'll be able to see her in about half an hour." The doctor said. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No, thank you." Claire replied. The doctor left and Claire sighed in relief. Matt's cell phone rang. His expression changed and his colleagues stared at him, waiting to hear what the call was about.
"It was LQ." Matt informed them after he hung up the phone. "He caught a leech and wants to conduct some tests on it."
"Now?" Peter asked. Matt nodded.
"Since you're her best friend you'll be staying here with Lindsay. Claire, you need to come with me back to the mobile lab." He said. Peter nodded. "Update us about Lindsay's condition." Peter nodded and Matt and Claire left.
It took some time before he could see Lindsay. As the doctor said, she was anesthetized and was connected to a heart monitor that beeped every few seconds, a breathing tube was inserted into her mouth, an IV and a blood unit was connected into her vein and sphygmomanometer on her finger. The nurse also explained that she was catheterized in her stomach in order to drain toxins from her liver. The skin of her face was almost colorless and Peter noticed that it was peeling. He wondered if that was an effect of the poison. He took a seat on the edge of her bed and took her hand that was almost weightless in his hand. He had only seen her in such a situation once before. It was when she attempted to stop a terrorist's organization from using biological weapons and broke a capsule full with nerve gas that killed all of the terrorists that were present in the room and she was poisoned as well. He remembered that he visited her in the hospital and she looked the same, only that she wasn't so pale and was not anesthetized. He remembered that she couldn't talk but wrote funny answers to questions she was asked on notes. She was in a good mood back then, glad that she stopped such a dangerous group of people from hurting others even if she almost lost her own life. But now it was different. She was in a greater danger and mostly because she was unconscious for some time when she was brought to the hospital.
The doctor walked into the room and smiled at him.
"It isn't as bad as it looks." He said to Peter.
"It looks bad enough." Peter replied.
"Most of the chances are that she'll be okay. I know she can't respond now, but for someone who had such a dangerous substance in her systems she has good vitals and a fairly good condition. All she needs to do is stay stable for a few more days before we'll stop giving her anesthetics." The doctor said.
"The nurse mentioned a catheter in her stomach. What is it for?"
"Lindsay's liver was full of toxins as a result of the poisoning, meaning that she ate or drank something that contained it and her body tried to dispose it. Lindsay's Catheter has one tube that is used to drain it out of her system and one that is used to inject her with an antidote to the poison." The doctor explained.
"Why is her skin peeling?" Peter asked.
"It's a side effect of the poison. It is very hard to be exposed to Lerexid, and it's a very rare poisoning. Most people are poisoned by drug overdoses or other more common substances. Do you have any idea how she was exposed to this?"
"She was bitten by leeches. Could they transfer something into her blood maybe?" Peter asked.
"No, leeches carry bacteria, but it doesn't transfer to the human body, but the fact that she was bitten by leeches may have saved her life in this case." The doctor said, "See, a leech secretes an anticoagulant into the blood to prevent it from clotting. Lerexid would kill her in six hours within the moment of poisoning. In this case, the anticoagulant thinned her blood and therefore it took more time for the substance to be absorbed in it. Your doctor-friend said that she examined Lindsay at 6 PM last night and by then she already displayed some of the symptoms, which means that she was poisoned about two hours earlier. If she was poisoned at that time, she would be dead by 10 PM, but since her blood was still thin and under the effect of the anticoagulant, it slowed the process down."
"That's incredible." Peter said.
"That is why we use leeches in medicine." The doctor smiled and left the room.
In the lab, LQ and Claire were working on the leech LQ had managed to catch in the lake. Since they knew what poisoned Lindsay, they looked for Lerexid in the leech's body to see if the leeches somehow mutated after easting something that was contaminated with the toxin.
Matt went to visit the old lady who took care of Lindsay when she fainted near the lake. He wasn't sure how to find the woman's house, but remembered that Lindsay said it was close to the lake and not far from where the mobile lab was parking. Therefore he didn't have much trouble finding it after a while. He knocked on the door of the small house that looked like a suburban house and not a shack as he imagined. No answer came and he knocked again, louder. Once again, he couldn't hear an answer. He then tried to open the door, but it was locked.
"Wonderful," He sighed and peeked into the house through the window. Something was lying on the floor and it looked like a body. He picked a big stone from the ground and threw it at the window. It shattered and he entered the house through it. He could now see the old woman lying lifeless on the floor. He checked her vital signs, but the woman was dead. Assuming that his cell phone won't work in the woods he opened the door and headed to the police station in town to report the woman's death.
Claire was asked to perform an autopsy on the dead woman's body and see what cause of death was. The team assumed that the woman was poisoned, but knew that the cause of death was also old age or a cardiac arrest that is often the cause of death in old people. But the team was not surprised to hear that the old woman died of poisoning.
"This is weird. Leeches can't transfer bacteria to humans and I never encountered a case where they were able to transfer substances that were in their bodies as well." LQ said.
"Maybe they didn't transfer the toxin to Lindsay and to the old woman." Claire said, "When I performed autopsy on the three men who died from the leech bites, there were no toxins in their blood. So whatever poisoned Lindsay and this woman was not a leech. It was something they ate, drank, touched or inhaled."
"Maybe the toxin came from the lake." Matt suggested. I'll go and take a sample of water from the lake." He said. "Call Peter and tell him that we need him to come back here and work on the sample."
Peter entered to the mobile lab and came into the conference room. He looked pale and tired. Claire offered him a coffee and he nodded appreciatively. She came back a few moments later and handed him a paper cup full of the steaming dark liquid. She took a seat next to him.
"How is Lindsay?" She asked.
"Believe me, you don't wanna see her. She's got so many tubes and monitors, her skin is peeling off and every few hours the doctors draw blood from her and it makes her look paler. She looks awful, she doesn't even breathe on her own. It's scary." Peter sighed and took a sip of his coffee.
"Sometimes it looks worse than it really is, Peter. Lindsay doesn't feel anything, I can assure you. They have given her a really strong drug and she can't even feel the pain of the tubes." Claire explained.
"I hope so." He said. He hoped he won't have to see anyone in such a condition ever again.
"Anyway, Matt asked you to come here because we found Lerexid in one of the leeches as well as in an old lady's body." Claire said.
"The lady who took care of Lindsay?" Peter asked. "She was poisoned too?"
"But she wasn't as lucky as Lindsay." Claire replied. "We're trying to figure out what poisoned them."
"Lindsay's doctor said that it must have been something that she ate or drank. He said that he found toxins in her liver." Peter informed her.
"I know. I found toxins in the old woman's liver as well." Claire said.
"It narrows down the list of things that might have poisoned them. I'm gonna check the sample from the lake." Peter said and was about to go out of the room. "By the way, where's Praeger?"
"He's in the old woman's house, looking for foods or drinks that might have contained the toxin." Claire replied.
"So the sample isn't here yet?"
"It's in the lab. Matt dropped it off and then came back to the house." Claire replied.
Peter nodded and went to the lab. He started working on taking the water-compound apart and isolating minerals and other substances that were in it. He inspected each of them under the microscope.
"There it is." He said after inspecting one of the many substances he found in the water. He let Claire inspect the substance in the microscope.
"This is Lerexid. Coming from the water the water in the lake." Claire stated.
"Does it mean that you have to go back to the morgue and take a look at the content of the old woman's stomach?" Peter asked. Claire nodded. Just then, Matt stormed into the lab and put two white clay mugs that had dried herbs stuck to their bottoms.
"What's that, Matt?" Claire asked.
"I found it in the sink. Both Lindsay and the woman were poisoned, right? So there are two matching cups with the same drink in it. They drank herb tea and I'm assuming that the woman watered the herbs that grow in her planter with water from the lake. Here's what poisoned them." Matt said. "I suggest that we verify my theory by checking if Lindsay's and the woman's DNA is on those cups and then checking if the herbs in it happen to contain Lerexid."
"Sounds logical." Peter said.
"I'm glad I sound reasonable to you, Pete. Claire, I want you to go to the hospital and collect DNA from Lindsay and then go to the morgue and collect DNA from the dead woman. Peter, until the DNA gets here, I'd like you to check the presence of Lerexid in the herbs. I'm gonna try and find out if there are paint factories in the area."
The DNA samples that needed to be compared were sent to the O.S.I.R. Central lab and the results came back 48 hours later.
Matt entered the conference room and threw a file on the table in front of Peter.
"The results?" Peter asked and Matt nodded. Peter opened the file and read the results he already knew. "A positive hundred percent match." He said. The herbs on the bottom of the cup contained Lerexid as well and they were now trying to find out how the dangerous substance got into the water in the lake. Usually, Lindsay would have to gather this information and look for the source, but she was still heavily sedated and there was no improvement in her condition. Matt had taken her job on his shoulders. And while Matt was busy looking for paint factories in the area, Peter, Claire and LQ were taking shifts in sitting next to Lindsay's bed and hoping that the doctors will decide to stop injecting her the anesthetics. It has already been three days since she was poisoned and the waiting was making them nervous.
"Maybe we should call her father." Peter suggested two days later, when Matt came to visit her.
"I don't know, Peter. Maybe we should wait a few more days before doing that." Matt replied. "She might get better all of the sudden."
"She's been here for almost a week and her condition didn't change since the day she came here. She's not gonna get better all of the sudden." Peter said.
"I know you're a bit impatient, Pete, but she will eventually get well again. You know Lindsay. She's strong and she'll survive." Matt said.
"Lindsay doesn't have superpowers, Matt. She's not immortal. She is human, just like you and me and she can die. Maybe she's dying right now."
"Peter, have a little faith in the doctors. Lindsay will get better and she's not dying, she is going to make it this time, just like she's done before. It might take some time, and I am sure she won't like to know that her best friend wasn't sure she'll survive." Matt said, "So I suggest that you go back to the motel, take a good shower, eat a delicious dinner and sleep at least twelve hours and come back here afterwards fresh and optimistic."
"I don't wanna leave her here alone." Peter said.
"I'll stay with her and Claire will replace me later." Matt assured him. Peter nodded slowly and took Lindsay's hand. He looked at it for a moment and noticed that the skin around her nails was peeling even though it didn't look dead and dry.
"I'm going now, Linds." He said softly and then put her hand back on the bed and left without saying goodbye to Matt.
Matt entered the motel room he and Peter were sharing. It was noon, but Peter was still asleep. His head was buried under the pillow and his fingers clutched the mattress. Matt smiled, thinking Peter's sleeping habits were strange, but nothing about Peter seemed usual to him. Maybe that is why Lindsay got along with him so well, because she adored anything and anyone who dared to be different. Matt knew that this was not the only reason they were such good friends. They had a lot in common, such as being only children and having demanding fathers and even though there was quite an age difference between them, as Peter was about ten years older than her, they had common language between them. They always seemed to know what the other was thinking or needing or wanting, which made them quite inseparable. Although Matt always thought they deserved each other very much, but more than just friends, they seemed to interpret their relationship differently, often saying that they should have been siblings. And the more he thought about it, he realized that the reason Lindsay was unable to find her one and only man was not because he died two years ago, but because Peter was unintentionally blocking her view, occupying her mind with other things, preventing her from looking for the thing she desired most in the world and consequently making her miserable. If Peter knew that he was doing that, would he let her go? He wondered. Would he stop defending her and let her be truly happy? Or maybe he would keep her close, so she'll never belong to anyone but him.
Peter's snore drew him back from his thoughts and he reproached himself for caring that much about his teammates' love lives. He came into this room to get some sleep and he was too tired to care about anything else right now. He knew that when he'll wake up, he'll have to continue his search for paint companies in the area. Inside him, he knew there must be at least one, otherwise, how did the Lerexid got into the waters of the lake?
It took another three days for Matt to find a paint factory that was located in the area. It was a new factory that belonged to a company that was called Bradford Industries. The factory was built only four months earlier, therefore it was easy for Matt to get the blueprints of the factory and after examining it he found out that there was a pipe that lead toxic waste straight into the waters of the Nova lake.
"Voila!" He said and threw the blueprints in front of Peter and Claire who were sitting in the conference room in the mobile lab and eating breakfast. Peter took the blueprints and traced the long pipe with his finger.
"This is the source of poisoning?" He asked. Matt nodded slowly.
"So what are we going to do in order to prevent further poisonings and leech attacks?" Claire asked.
"We'll call the local sanitation branch and let them solve the problem. We solved our own case; now let them deal with the consequences of industrialization." Matt replied. "And the O.S.I.R. is not supposed to get itself involved with local issues anyway."
"And what will happen with Lindsay?" Peter asked.
"What do you mean?"
"The case is solved, so we're going to leave this town, right?" Peter asked and Matt nodded in reply. "So what will happen with Lindsay? We can't leave her here."
"We'll stay for one more week and if the doctors won't decide on stopping the anesthesia, we'll call her father and arrange for her to be transferred to a hospital in Toronto." Matt replied.
Her head was throbbing loudly and an acidic taste rose in her mouth. She fought hard to keep her eyes shut and gain a few more painless moments of unconsciousness but it made it difficult for her to breath, therefore she stopped the useless attempt. She was thrown into a dazzling pool of light. It was too bright and tears rose in her eyes as she stared at it. Something was stuck deep in her throat and mouth and she gagged, trying to spit it out. She heard a distant voice mumbling something that she couldn't understand. She felt the chills of fear going through her spine as it became more and more difficult for her to understand where she was and what was happening. It must be some kind of dream, she thought. The whole situation seemed to be very illogical to happen in real life.
"Lindsay," She heard her name being called. She turned her head to the right and saw Peter who was looking at her worriedly and put his hand on her cheek. She tried to move her lips, but an object was blocking her words. "Don't try to speak, Lindsay. You have a tube in your throat." Peter said softly. "I'll go and get you a paper and pencil, so you'll be able to tell me what you want." He went out of the room and Lindsay closed her eyes. The light was hurting them, even though it didn't look as dazzling as it did before. Peter came back into the room a few moments later and handed her a notebook and a pen. "Now write down whatever you wanna say." He said and Lindsay scribbled the words. Her grip of the pen was week and many of the letters she was writing were unclear. She handed Peter the notebook and he read what she wrote aloud. "Whare am I?" He read from the notebook. "You misspelled the word Where, Lindsay. You wrote it with an A." He joked. "You're in a hospital." He gave her the notebook and she scribbled another word.
"You were poisoned by a substance called Lerexid. It was in the waters of the lake." He replied and she quickly scribbled another sentence.
"I don't remember."
"You were anesthetized for 11 days, Lindsay. The doctors wanted to wait until you're out of danger before stopping the anesthetics." Peter said.
"But I never drank from the lake." She wrote.
"You drank herb tea in the old lady's house. The herbs were watered with water from the lake." Peter replied.
"Can't be. Mania also drank this tea." She handed him the notebook.
"She was poisoned too, Lindsay. But it was too late when Matt found her." Peter said, not sure how Lindsay will take the news.
"You're lying." She wrote down.
"I'm sorry, Lindsay, but she was an old lady. She probably didn't suffer much." Peter noticed tears that were going down Lindsay's cheeks and gently wiped them off.
"But she took such a good care of me." Lindsay scribbled.
"I know, Linds. She looked like a good lady." Peter lied. He never even saw Mania or her body. Lindsay laid in silence for a few moments and then wrote down another question.
"The same substance that poisoned you was the cause the leeches grew so much. A paint factory was throwing their toxic waste into the waters of the lake and it made the leeches grow into unnatural size." Peter said. "The local sanitation branch is assembling a committee that will think of ways to kill the leeches and stop contamination of the Nova Lake and surrounding area without hurting the forest and animals that live in it." Peter explained. "I heard they're thinking of drying the lake."
"LQ set the fire-wing butterfly free?" Lindsay wrote down.
"No, he waited for you. He said he made a promise to you that you'll set him free together. He even brought it here every time he came to visit you."
"Poor butterfly. He's been locked up for that long?" She scribbled. "When will I be able to set it free?"
"When the doctor says that you can leave the hospital."
"Does he even know that I'm awake?" Lindsay handed him the notebook.
"No, I'll go and tell him." Peter hurried out of the room and came back a few moments later with a doctor and a nurse. The doctor checked Lindsay's vital signs, asked the nurse to inject her something. After doing what the doctored ordered her, the nurse went out of the room.
"We're going to remove the tube in your mouth. We'll replace it with a more comfortable external tube." He said to her. He wrote something in her chart. The nurse came back to the room, carrying a small tool table that had a sealed box on it. The doctor opened it and inspected whatever was inside it closely. He nodded and the nurse went over to Lindsay's bed.
"Open your mouth as wide as you can." She said to her. The nurse slowly took the breathing tube out of Lindsay's throat and Lindsay gagged and coughed for a few minutes. The nurse then put a breathing tube in Lindsay's nose. "Do not speak for a while. I know your throat really hurts right now; therefore you need to give it some rest. You're being fed from an IV, therefore you shouldn't feel hunger or thirst, but if you will, you can drink some cold water." The nurse turned to Peter. "Nothing else for now, okay?" Peter nodded slowly and both the nurse and doctor left the room.
The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was the fire-wing butterfly spreading its wings inside the aquarium. She smiled widely, knowing that it was its last day in captivity. She could sense that the butterfly knew it too by the way it moved inside the aquarium. She jumped out of the bed and hurried to the bathroom to brush her teeth and then threw an old pair of jeans that she quickly pulled out of her suitcase and a black tank top that was thrown on her bed. She put on her shoes and then grabbed the aquarium and ran out of the room.
She knocked on LQ's motel room door. It took a few minutes before he opened the door and looked at her sleepily.
"Lindsay, is everything okay?" He asked. Lindsay lifted the aquarium so he could see it.
"I wanna release it today." She said. "Now."
"Lindsay, it's 5AM. It's too early to set free a butterfly." LQ said.
"No, LQ. Let's do it now. Please…" She said. LQ sighed and then nodded and went into his room. He came out a few minutes later.
"We have to get the car keys from Matt." He said.
"I was planning on walking there." Lindsay replied.
"Lindsay, you know I'd like to set the butterfly free as much as you do, but we can't walk there. It's a mile away from here." LQ muttered.
"We can hitchhike if you want, but I enjoy walking. Think of this as a way to keep yourself healthy."
"You know? You sound like my daughters when they really want something and they don't get it. I can't stand their begging, so I do it." LQ sighed. "Don't use it against me too." They started walking out of the motel.
"You're a father? I didn't know that." Lindsay asked in surprise.
"Yes. The fact that I'm short and bald doesn't mean that I don't have a wife and kids." LQ looked offended.
"I didn't mean it that way, LQ. You know I don't judge people by their looks." Lindsay replied. "I just thought that you were like the rest of us."
"Who are us and what all of you have in common that I don't?" LQ asked with curiosity.
"By saying us I mean the team members." Lindsay replied, "And I meant that none of us has a family. It was always like this in most of the O.S.I.R. teams I worked with."
"It doesn't have to be like this. The fact that you travel doesn't mean that you can't have a family and you're also wrong about other team members not having families. Matt has a daughter and Anton has a wife." LQ said.
"Peter and I aren't married and have no children." Lindsay said. "And Claire too." LQ nodded slowly. It was chilly in this time of morning and Lindsay shivered.
"You want my jacket?" He asked. Lindsay shook her head slowly. "You know, Lindsay. I really think that you need to find someone that will make you happy."
"I'll find him, one day." Lindsay replied.
"Don't you think that you found him already?" LQ asked.
"Connor is dead, LQ." Lindsay replied.
"Not Connor, Lindsay. I'm talking about Peter."
"Peter and I are just friends." Lindsay said. "We're not involved."
"The relationship between the two of you certainly means more to him than to you, then." LQ said. "You should have seen him when you were anesthetized. He was holding your hand, talking to you, making plans…"
"Making plans?" Lindsay stopped walking.
"Yes. I came to replace him. Peter insisted that you won't be alone for a single moment, so we were making shifts, for him, so he could go to the motel and get some sleep." LQ started, "And as I was standing in the entrance to the room, I heard him say that he bought a ring for you and that it was in him pocket for over a year. He said that he would never give it to you because he's scared that you'll say no to him."
"You're making this up, LQ." Lindsay said.
"I'm not, Lindsay. He didn't know that I was there. He said it to you, because he knew that you won't remember a single word. You're wrong about him, Lindsay. You mean the world to him." They renewed their walking.
"Wow, I didn't know that." Lindsay sighed. "Do you think I should talk to him about this?"
"Well, I think you should think seriously about what you expect from your relationship with Peter. Once you know that, you'll be able to decide whether you should talk to him about it or not." LQ suggested.
"But you said he bought a ring."
"Yeah." LQ replied.
"It means that he wants to get married, right?" Lindsay said.
"Ring is usually a restrictive object, but it doesn't necessarily mean he wants to marry you." LQ said.
"I can't believe I was so pathetically oblivious." Lindsay sighed.
"You know what they say, love is blind." LQ smiled and patted her shoulder gently. "You're smart, Lindsay. I know that if you think about it, you'll be able to make the decision that is most right for you and him."
"Are you trying to suggest that the decision that is right for Peter and me is to be together?" Lindsay asked.
"Not necessarily." LQ replied. "Let's stop for a few minutes. I need a break." Lindsay nodded and they stopped walking.
"So tell me about your daughters." Lindsay changed the subject.
"I have three daughters. Talia is the oldest, she's 25. The second one is Maya, she's 23 and the third is Kenzy, she's 20." LQ said, "Talia is a fiddler, you should really come to hear her play sometime. Maya is currently traveling the world. She studied photography and is now somewhere in Scandinavia. Kenzy is still in university. She's studying anthropology."
"You're sound so proud of them." Lindsay smiled.
"I am." LQ said. "Let's keep walking."
"It's a nice town, you know. Maybe I'll move out of the city one day and settle in a place like this with forests."
"Yes, it is a pastoral surrounding." LQ said. "Do you think we'll get there soon?"
"Yeah, it shouldn't be far. Where do you think it would be best to release it?" Lindsay asked.
"Deep in the forest, not near the lake, because the leeches might catch it." LQ suggested.
"I don't wanna go too deep into the forest, we might get lost." Lindsay said. They fount the path that lead into the forest. "I don't think we should stray from this trail." LQ nodded slowly. They walked through the woods, and Lindsay was glad that LQ didn't start another conversation and it gave her some time to think. The knowledge that Peter kept a ring for her in his pocket was stressing. She liked Peter very much, but never thought of him as anything more than a friend. It has been over two months since she broke up with her last boyfriend, Marc and she knew that since Connor died, she used men as a temporary relief for her pain. Marc was no exception, even though they've been together for a year, which was longer than any relationship she had since Connor died. And now Peter, it was confusing, the knowledge that a good friendship could be destroyed if she'll say a wrong word. Pete was too precious to lose. But on the other hand, she knew it wouldn't give her a thing if she kept grieving Connor. He died, end of story and after three years of grief, she needed to let him go and move on. Peter could be a good place to start. Actually, he might be the first place to start, being the person that she blamed for months in Connor's death. She knew now that Connor was infected with the deadly parasite and that Peter couldn't have saved him, but three years ago he seemed to be her greatest enemy and at the same time her last hope for sanity. She remembered their first investigation after they came back from Russia, when Matt decided to 'punish' her after she kept important information from the team and sent them together on the first plane to Halifax, to visit Michael Kelly. It was on their way back home that Peter told her that Connor was dying and allowing her to understand that nothing could be done to save him. It was that flight that made the two of them become so close.
"I think this is a good place to release it." LQ stopped between two woods where the sun invaded through the thick leafy treetops.
"Yeah, it looks right." Lindsay said. It was sunny enough, yet a dark spot in the forest and it seemed to be the perfect place to sit and ponder. She put the little aquarium on the ground and kneeled beside it. She looked at the butterfly inside it. "I wonder how it managed to hold on in this box for two weeks." She said.
"He was waiting for you." LQ replied. Lindsay smiled and started unclipping the plastic clips that held the top of the aquarium in its place. She stopped when she realized what LQ really meant by saying this. She sighed and took one more look at the fire-wing before she removed the aquarium's red plastic top. It seemed to be hesitating for a while.
"It can still fly, right?" Lindsay asked with worry.
"Yes, maybe it's just frightened." LQ replied. "Give it a few minutes. It will fly." And he was right. A few moments later the fire-wing spread his long red and orange wings and waved them a few times, then flew out of the aquarium and away from LQ and Lindsay, looking like a little flame that was floating in the air.
Matt stormed into the mobile lab and threw the case file on the table in the conference room. He glared at Lindsay and then at Claire and Peter.
"Lindsay, you are a whole lot of trouble lately." He said. Lindsay arched her brows and stood up, putting her hands on her waist.
"Excuse me?" She asked.
"Your medical bill was accidentally sent to the O.S.I.R. and now I have to travel all the way back to the central lab to give Elsinger a detailed report about how exactly you were poisoned and where was I when it happened. It can cost me my job." Matt said.
"Matt, I… I'm sorry. Who sent my bill to the O.S.I.R.?"
"Marc Hagen." Matt replied.
"The hospital probably sent it to Marc's address, oh, shit." Lindsay said, "I'll talk to him, Matt. It won't happen again. Do you want me to talk to Elsinger and explain it was a mistake?"
"No, there's no need. I'll manage. You're case manager while I'm gone." Matt said. "The full details are in this file." He pointed at the file he threw on the table earlier. "I'm going to pack." He said before leaving the room.
"Bye," Lindsay said with concern. She hoped things would work for the best to Matt, and hoped even more that Elsinger won't have to summon her to the central lab for a questioning about her poisoning. She sat back in her chair and opened the case file. She has never been a case manager before, even though she thought it could be interesting, and she wasn't sure what she should do. There was a general description of the case and then a few notes that included information on leeches, on Lerexid and on the plant that contaminated the waters of the Nova Lake. She also found there a form that looked like the development of the investigation on each day. In the end of it, there were blank lines and above it the title 'Final Case Log" was written.
"Case File number 36-7482, Final Case Log. Day 15, 8 hours. Lindsay Donner is reporting. The committee that was established by the local sanitation bureau to examine possible ways to kill the leeches without harming the environment has decided to temporarily dry the lake and then take measures in order to kill the leeches. The paint plant that contaminated the lake was fined by the local authorities and might be facing a lawsuit as well." Lindsay said into the tape-recorder. "The toxic waste's different effects on the Nova Lake and surrounding area have brought to the deaths of four people and the injury of one. Lindsay Donner, out." Lindsay turned off the tape-recorder and looked at Peter who was standing beside her.
"Are you going to file a lawsuit against the company that owns the plant?" He asked her. Lindsay shook her head slowly.
"I don't think so, no. I don't need this money. I'm just glad to be alive and well." She replied.
"I think you should, Lindsay. In case you didn't know, the reason Elsinger asked Matt to come to the central lab for an inquiry was that the hospital charged you with a thousand dollars for your eleven days in there."
"Are you kidding?" Lindsay said.
"No, Linds. If it was just a broken leg or another minor wound you sustained, he wouldn't make such a big deal about it, but it was a life-threatening injury, Lindsay and the costs of the treatment were also, respectively high." Peter explained.
"Oh, God." Lindsay buried her face in her palms.
"Listen, if you need any help paying the bill, I'll…"
"No, Peter. It's okay. My father would help me with the money. I just hope Matt is not going to lose his job because of it." Lindsay sighed.
"He won't, you know what Elsinger is like. His bark is worse than his bite." Peter smiled.
"Not always." Lindsay said bitterly. "Connor annoyed him enough to be disposed."
"Well, Connor was a different story. Matt will just get some yells and everything will go back to normal. You'll see." Peter said and put his hand on her shoulder.
"Peter," It seemed to be the right time to bring the subject of their relationship up. "Can I ask you something?" He nodded slowly. "I wanna know what you would like the relationship between us to look like." Peter's took a deep breath and coughed with discomfort. He gazed at the ground and kicked a small stone. "Be honest, okay?" He didn't give a sign that he heard her. She leaned against a tree, suddenly realizing that the forest might not be a good place to discuss this subject. "You wanna talk about it over a dinner?" She asked. He raised his head and looked at everything but her. "Or a drink, maybe?"
"I don't think there's much to talk about." He finally emitted a hoarse mumble.
"Why?" She asked and could feel something crawling down her arm. When she looked at it, she saw a small black leech. She screamed in horror and immediately felt Peter's arms pinning her to the tree.
"Calm down." He almost shook her. She took a deep breath and tried to remind herself that she was scared of a rather harmless creature that was much smaller then her. Peter took the leech off her arm and threw it on the ground. Some blood was oozing from the small leech bite. She buried her face in her palms and sighed. "Don't lean on the trees unless you're looking for a repeat." He said.
"I wanna go back to the motel." Peter nodded and they started walking out of the woods.
Lindsay was lying in her bed in the motel and staring blindly at the television. Psychedelic images flickered on the screen and she chewed her bottom lip. Claire was sitting on the bed across the room and was talking with Matt on the phone in a way that made it clear for Lindsay that there was something going on between them.
"Linds, are you okay?" Claire hung up the phone and took a seat on the edge of Lindsay's bed. "You're not being yourself this evening. Are you feeling well?" Lindsay found it hard to reply, or move at all. "Something's upsetting you. Wanna tell me what it is?" Lindsay tried to remember when she and Claire became friends. For all she knew, they're relationship were completely professional and never beyond it. Claire put her palm on Lindsay's forehead. "Well, you're not sick. You don't a fever." She stated. "So I'll assume that you're just in a murky mood." They heard a knock on the door. "Come in!" Claire called out and the door was opened. Peter entered the room.
"Good evening." He said. Claire smiled at him, while Lindsay remained silent and still in bed, not showing any sign that she saw or heard either of them. "Claire, do you mind if I talk privately with Lindsay?" He asked.
"Sure, I'll go out for a smoke or two." Claire replied and grabbed a packet of cigarettes from the night table and went out of the room. Peter took a seat on the edge of Lindsay's bed and looked at her. She looked distracted and sleepy.
"Linds," He uttered her name quietly. "I have an answer for the question you asked me this afternoon." Lindsay's unfocused gaze locked on his face. "You know, we've been friends for four years and I like you a lot, but most of the time I spend with you, I feel that I want a deeper relationship. I don't know how you feel about me, but since you asked me to be honest, I'll tell you that I love you, madly. And I know it sounds crazy, but for a few months I've been keeping a ring in my pocket and I'd like more than anything else to put it on your finger." Peter stopped for a second. "And I'll understand if you say that you're not interested in this kind of relationship. I won't mind, as long as we stay best friends." Lindsay pulled herself into a sitting position and looked at him for a moment. "Now, can you be honest with me and tell me what you feel for me?" She nodded slowly.
"I like you a lot, you know. I think that if we tried, we could even have more than that, and I've been told that we fit, that we were meant for each other, and it's confusing me, because the only man I ever fell in love with was Connor. But when I thought about it deeply, I realized that I have to move on. He died and whether or not it will be with you, I have to let it happen again, I have to fall in love again, because this is what I'm made of – love. I know it sounds crazier than your ring story." She sighed. "I sound like a hippie, but I really believe that this is the one thing that will make me truly happy, Peter, that if I'll fall in love again, I'll feel alive again, and therefore I think that we might need to give it a chance. Now, I'm not sure about the ring, but we could start dating and see where it goes from there." She said, barely able to understand how she found the strength to translate her feelings into words.
"It sounds good to me, Linds. I'd like very much to date with you." He smiled. Lindsay wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close, enjoying Peter's last moments as her best friend.
"Just don't fade away, okay? Don't try to impress me or something. I want you to stay yourself and not try to change for me, because I can be demanding and annoying and I might try, at a certain point to mold you into someone else, to fit my requirements, and I don't want you to change, even if I'll ever say I do. If I try changing you, just get rid of me or something, okay?" She said. Peter pulled away from her and smiled.
"Do you give this speech to all of the guys you date?" He asked. She shook her head slowly. "Good, because I'm sure that most guys would never call you again after hearing such a thing."
"I like challenges." Peter replied and then wished her goodnight and left the room. She looked at the closed door for a few moments and then smiled, pushed her blanket aside and went out of the bed. She quickly put her shoes on and went out of the room. She located Claire who was sitting on the edge of the pool that was outside and dipping her legs in the blue water. She went over there and took a seat next to Claire.
"Hi," She said to Claire, noticing the cigarette that was stuck between her index finger and middle finger.
"Are you feeling better?" Claire asked. Lindsay nodded slowly. "So it means that you and Peter are gonna be together, right?"
"We'll start dating and see where it will lead us, but don't tell anyone, okay?"
"Of course I won't." Claire replied.
"Can I have one?" Lindsay asked and pointed at the packet of cigarettes.
"That's funny. I didn't know you smoke." Claire smiled. "I always thought you were a 'good girl', too good to do evil things like smoking."
"I used to smoke, years ago." Lindsay admitted. "Sometimes I feel like having a smoke or two."
"It's good to know that Ms. Donner is human, like the rest of us." Claire said.
"Don't patronize me, Claire. I never did anything to even suggest that I was in a different league than you. It's you who feel so underrated all the time, don't blame me for it." Lindsay suddenly remembered why she and Claire could never make friends.
"You're right." Claire sighed and took a drag of her cigarette.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Lindsay was almost certain that she heard Claire wrong.
"I said what you think I said. I said that you're right. I do blame you for something that is far beyond your control." Claire replied. "I apologize." Lindsay lighted a cigarette and inhaled the smoke slowly.
"Apology accepted." Lindsay said. She exhaled rings of smoke and Claire looked at her with a slight surprise.
"For how long did you smoke before you quite?" She asked. She never knew how to exhale rings of smoke even though she was smoking for over fifteen years.
"I don't know, for two or three years, I think." Lindsay replied.
"I guess that you're a born talent, in everything you do." Claire said, she wondered why she could never be like Lindsay – pretty, smart, popular and sought-after, adorable and so prefect. She knew that there was not a single person who met Lindsay and did not like her. Lindsay was a memorable person who left deep positive impression on everyone who met her. Claire smiled to herself.
"Why are you laughing?" Lindsay asked.
"I'm not laughing, Lindsay. Not at you, anyway." Claire replied. "I just always thought it was really cool that people can exhale smoke rings. Where did you learn that?"
"My first boyfriend taught me how to do it." Lindsay sighed, "That was years ago, way before you or Peter or Connor or the O.S.I.R." She smiled and took another long drag from the cigarette.
"So despite of your daddy's princess look, you're indeed a bad girl." Claire joked. Lindsay burst out laughing and nodded.
"You're on to me. I am quite a trouble maker, even now." She said. They smiled at each other and then stared into the blue waters of the pool quietly. It was only two hours later when their cigarettes ran out and they decided that it was a good time to go back to their room. "Claire," Lindsay said a few moments after tuning off the lights. "You shouldn't be so jealous at me. My life isn't perfect as it seems to be." And with those words she fell asleep, hoping that Claire would listen to her advice and stop envying her.