Antonio's jaw snapped back from the force of her slap, and he gritted out a curse at the unexpected reaction.
Tears again fell from Abby's reddened hazel eyes, and her voice was choked, gutted as she growled out her denial. "You're lying. You're lying."
"Abby, I'm not…"
She cut him off, pushing her fists sharply into his midsection, struggling to stand up, put some distance between them, but he held on, wouldn't let her go. "Why?" The single word, the question, tore from her strangled throat, awash in anguish. "Why would you say something like that to me? When you know…when you know. She died. Vincent…" Abby shook her head violently, tumbling her tawny hair wildly about her shoulders, and she grew still with it, the renewed memory of him and his vicious, unrelenting rage that night. Her fingers blanched as they dug into Antonio's biceps through the soft leather of his jacket.
"Vincent's rotting in prison for what he did to you, not to our daughter."
A tear slipped down her cheek, clung to her lip, fell to his tee-shirt where the dark cotton soaked it up, and just like that, Abby was back there, felt the phantom pain of her broken bones, tasted the faint aftertaste of blood in the back of her throat, remembered the rippling, shuddering clench of her body as it fought to expel her daughter from a refuge that wasn't safe anymore. She shook, trembled uncontrollably in Antonio's arms as she fought to reconcile his words with the truth she knew (the truth she was told). "You were there," she finally managed the needless reminder. "Tony, it isn't possible."
"I was at the hospital," Antonio corrected. "Not in the room where you delivered her. They wouldn't let me in."
"No," Abby wouldn't allow herself to be convinced. "When I woke up in that hospital bed, the doctors told me that she had died, that there was nothing that they could do, that she was too early, that Vincent…" She trailed off, unable to even contemplate the possibility that he was right, that what he was telling her was the truth, because if it was…if it was, the last ten years of her life had been nothing but a lie, and there was only one person conceivably evil enough to orchestrate that lie. Her hazel eyes held a grim knowledge as she relaxed her grip on his upper arms, searched his own eyes as she spoke the old man's name. "It was him."
Antonio nodded, his own jaw tight with renewed anger, and his hands stroked up and down her sides, restless to soothe her, even in his own agitated state, for he had had years to come to terms with this information. Abby had only had a matter of minutes, and he could tell she was struggling mightily to digest it.
Antonio's dark eyes flashed as he answered her question with a question of his own. "Who could ever understand that sadistic son of a bitch's motivations? I don't know. If he wasn't already dead, I'd kill him to find out."
"You'd have to go through me first," Abby swore before taking a shaky breath and looking deeply into his eyes. He really believed. "Tony," her voice dropped to a wavering, hopeful whisper. "Do you really think our daughter's alive?"
"I don't think," Antonio answered her with conviction, his large hands framing her face, his own eyes glassy with emotion. "I know."
Abby's fingers tightened again around his arms, and she had trouble speaking past the lump of dread and expectation lodged firmly in her throat. "How can you know such a thing?"
"Because she's here, Abby," he said simply. "Right here in Harmony."
Mindful of the little ears still likely listening down the hallway, Luis pushed the bedroom door shut and leveled a hard gaze on his wife, irrationally angry all of a sudden that he hadn't pushed her harder for details earlier, that he hadn't been able to see past his own jealousy to question the coincidental timing of this friend's return to Harmony, the oddity of his (un)familiarity. "Tell me everything you know about this Brian person."
Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, Sheridan was hesitant to meet his intense gaze. "He said he knew you from when you two were boys, that you even went to the same school."
"And you believed him?" Luis questioned. Shaking his head shortly, he plowed ahead, down another avenue of questioning. "What does he look like? How did he act around the children?"
Sheridan shifted on the edge of the bed, feeling a little bit like a suspect under interrogation. Playing the part, she confessed somewhat guiltily, "He had dark hair and eyes. He's only met Cristian, not Ali, and he seemed fine. You know how shy Cristian can sometimes be. He wasn't like that with Brian, at least not the usual extent. He was…comfortable. I was comfortable. I really don't think he means any of us any harm."
"You don't think he means any of us any harm?" Luis scoffed. "You're the one that told me about the jacket. You didn't seem to think he was so harmless when you blurted out that little piece of information."
"I panicked," Sheridan defended her earlier outburst. "I jumped to conclusions just like you're doing now. I'm sure it's nothing more than a coincidence."
Luis's dark eyes narrowed. "Why are you so intent on giving this guy the benefit of the doubt? You don't even know him. Hell, I don't even know him. You're too damn trusting. So is Cristian. That's it. I'm having Noah put out an APB on this so-called long lost friend of mine. If he's as innocent and harmless as you claim," he turned to go, to leave the bedroom, but Sheridan's slender hand caught him by the arm, effectively stopping him in his tracks and stalling his train of thought.
"Luis," Sheridan pleaded. "Please don't. Don't drag Noah or the rest of the force into this. There's another way."
Slowly, Luis turned around, and he sighed, because it was clear, and not just to him. Sheridan had him right where she wanted him, and all it took was one look into those earnest blue eyes. Begrudgingly, he encouraged her to reveal her own plan, because the one currently forming in his madly racing brain involved a little too much violence for the leader of the Harmony Police Department. "I'm listening."
"Brian and I have another lesson next week."
Beth rest a hand over her lower abdomen, sighing deeply, disappointedly, as she stared out of the Solarium's windows at the stars twinkling mockingly down at her in their happiness. She startled when she heard a door shut behind her, and whirling around, scolded Ethan for following her when she had expressly told him she needed some time alone, some time to think, some time to deal with the setback of essentially failing one of the biggest tests she would ever take. His name died on her lips, though, when she saw it was not the son, but the mother approaching her, wearing an expression foreign to everything Beth had ever learned about her on her aristocratic features. "I'm sorry. I thought…"
Ivy gave her a smile full of understanding sympathy, or at least a fair approximation. "I know what you thought. Alas, it's only me, Darling. Care if I join you?" Not used to being denied, she didn't wait for Beth to give an answer, merely moved across the room on silent, slippered feet. "You couldn't sleep either, I see."
Shaking her head in acknowledgment, Beth again turned her attention to the stars, but only briefly. Her curiosity soon compelled her to turn back around, and she hugged her arms about her waist as she crept cautiously forward to get a better look at the massive book Ivy held awkwardly in her silk-encased lap. "Is that…"
Ivy lifted a brow at the unasked question hovering on her daughter-in-law's reluctant tongue and opened the book, wrinkling her nose as a fine layer of dust plumed in front of her in the process. "It's a photo album, not a tome of secrets or spells." Her blue-green eyes twinkled with humor at the expression on Beth's face, and she patted the empty space beside her on the sofa, which Beth finally took, drawing her knees up high and playing absently with the cotton hem of her pajama pants. "Even us Cranes are capable of nostalgia, although I'd appreciate it if you didn't let anyone in on that fact."
The corners of Beth's mouth twitched in response. "Your secret's safe with me." Gradually, she relaxed enough to scoot closer to the older woman, craning her neck to get a better look at the first photograph. "Is that…" she trailed off incredulously.
"Yes, Darling, it is," Ivy grinned. "I once threatened to release these photographs to the public during a particularly nasty fight between Julian and I. Julian destroyed the original. Poor fool didn't count on me making copies, virtually dozens of them. Pompous little thing, wasn't he? So proud of the family jewels."
Beth's amusement got the better of her, and she laughed. "He couldn't have been more than three years old."
"If I'm not mistaken, that picture was actually taken at his birthday party," Ivy revealed.
"He looks so innocent," Beth breathed.
"Looks, as we all know, can be deceiving," Ivy interjected, flipping ahead several pages to a photograph of a much older Julian gazing down at a tiny Sheridan with an unreadable expression on his face, but his eyes…they told another story altogether.
Beth's breath caught in her throat. "He loved her. It's there, in his eyes."
"Yes," Ivy murmured quietly, caught off-guard by the revelation brought forth by the new pair of eyes. "It truly is." More pictures followed, of Sheridan, Julian less so. One in particular, lapsed both women into contemplative silence, for it was a snapshot, a forgotten fragment of stolen time, placed haphazardly between the album's pages, a picture of a young Pilar, an even younger Antonio lurking just in the background of a posed Crane family portrait.
"I've never seen that picture before," Beth finally remarked softly, and something in the way Ivy reacted niggled at her consciousness, but she didn't have time to consider why because suddenly Ethan was there, hovering in the doorway, confusion clouding his blue eyes.
Ivy shut the album with a resounding, final thud and safely stowed it away as she rose to join Beth.
Holding out her cell phone to his wife, Ethan barely spared his mother a second glance. "It's the hospital."
"The hospital?" Beth could literally feel her throat closing up on her as the shock of Ethan's words started to sink in. "What? Who? Ethan, who is it?"
Noah groaned into Katie's mouth when a cell phone started ringing. "Ignore that," he murmured into her kiss, tucking her blond hair behind her ear and starting to trail his lips down the column of her throat. "It's probably a telemarketer."
Katie laughed and struck out a hand to fumble for the phone, knocking it to the floor in the process. "This late? What if it's something important?"
"It isn't," Noah mumbled against her collarbone, opening the top two buttons of her pajama top and slipping a stealthy hand inside. He grinned against her skin at her answering, breathy moan. "You're not on call, are you?"
"No," Katie shook her head, gasping when he got a little too playful in his ministrations. She rebounded with a little trick of her own, and soon they were both sans shirts and panting into each other's mouths. Mercifully, the phone stopped ringing, long enough at least for things to resume on their natural path. Katie was just kissing a path down to Noah's navel when a thought occurred to her, one which had Noah swearing in frustration. "You're not on call, are you?"
"Marty and I worked something out." Noah flexed his legs beneath her, slid his large hands beneath the thin cotton shorts she wore as she slid forward and teased the edges of her lacy underwear with his fingertips. "Look. They'll call again if it's really important. Can we please go back to…you know?" His brows rose and fell meaningfully. "I had to read Kendall five bedtime stories before he finally zonkered out."
Katie smirked, rubbing her hands up and down his muscled chest absently. "Which one was his favorite tonight?"
"I really don't see the appeal of Elmo," Noah answered simply. "I really, really don't."
"Elmo's cute," Katie smiled as she leaned down to kiss him again. "Just like you."
"You finally noticed," Noah grinned into the kiss. His hands rose to the waistband of her shorts and tugged. "What are you waiting for? Why don't you take these things off?"
Katie kissed him again, lying down and pressing herself close. "I'm sorry I've been so distracted lately," she murmured into his jaw, just beginning to darken with a five o'clock shadow.
"You're a good friend," Noah responded. Resting a hand momentarily in the small of her back, he kissed her forehead as he teased her. "I can't complain. Too much."
Katie giggled into his ear, then moaned breathlessly as his hand slid lower. "Because whining's so attractive." Hitching her thigh higher, she moved restlessly against him, making them both groan, and Noah had just flipped her beneath him, tossed her shorts halfway across the room, and was making short work of her tiny scrap of underwear when her cell phone started trilling insistently again, startling them both.
Noah flopped over onto his back resignedly at the exasperated look in Katie's green eyes. "Poor Kendall. Forever doomed to be an only child."
Katie looked at him oddly as she crawled over him to hang onto the edge of the bed, reaching desperately for her ringing phone, and she was still having a hard time coming to terms with his lightheartedly spoken little dagger of a statement when she finally succeeded in snagging the offending phone from the floor. "Katie."
A lazy smile bloomed on Noah's handsome face; he was really enjoying how off-balanced his simple comment had made her. "Who is it?" he mouthed as she straightened astride him, planting a hand against his chest to push herself up and out of the bed. He frowned when she ignored him and started pulling open random drawers, keeping the phone between her ear and bunched up shoulder. When she yanked a random scrub top from the closet, he had his answer, and he was already out of bed, pressing his lips against her hairline when she hung up the phone. "Let me guess. They need you at the hospital."
"The ER's backed up, and they've already called in all the call people," Katie told him apologetically. "It's just a few hours. They even offered me the day off tomorrow."
"We'll take Kendall to the park on my lunch hour," Noah responded agreeably.
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Think of this as our trial run," Noah said. "Call me in the morning. I'll come get you."
"You don't have to," Katie started to protest, sliding her arms around his back and clinging to him and his enviable warmth.
"I know. I want to. Go."
Katie lingered at the bedroom door. "I really do love you."
Noah grinned and shooed her out the door with a warning. "You'd better."
Whitney yanked the curtain to the small cubicle back and stormed inside, oblivious to the presence of her mother and her sister, focused only on reaching her father's bedside. "Thank God! Daddy, what happened? Is everything okay?"
T.C.'s arms slowly lifted to wrap around his daughter's slim form, and he met Simone's welling dark eyes knowingly over Whitney's shoulder. "It's okay, Sweetheart. I'm okay. It was just a false alarm."
Straightening up and pushing her hair back behind her ears, Whitney frowned, slightly confused at her father's words. "What do you mean, just a false alarm? You're in the emergency room." Glancing at her mother, she demanded a more satisfying answer.
"After dinner tonight, your father started having chest pains," Eve started to explain.
"Your mother overreacted," T.C. cut in impatiently.
"As all good doctors do," Simone added her two cents.
"As I was saying," T.C. continued, "Your mother and your sister overreacted, bodily dragged me to the car, and broke about ten different traffic laws getting us here."
"We thought you were having a heart attack, Daddy," Simone interjected again, her chin going up stubbornly. "We did what we had to do."
"And I thank you," T.C. smiled gently at his youngest daughter, taking her outstretched hand and giving it a thankful, reassuring squeeze, "but it turned out to be completely unnecessary."
"Unnecessary?" Whitney's brows furrowed. She looked to her mother again then back at her father. "Then why…" she let the question trail off and started scanning their immediate surroundings for her father's chart. "Mom?" she asked distractedly. "Help me find it."
"I've already read it," Eve attempted to alleviate her daughter's anxiety. "It seems," she began, only to be interrupted by a strong, clear voice, and a hand pulling the curtain back again.
"Mr. Russell, I'm Scott," the clean-cut young man offered T.C. his hand. "I'm here to take you down for your scan."
Whitney turned around, gave Scott and wheelchair in front of him a long, considering once-over. "I'm Dr. Russell," she introduced herself. "I don't think we've met."
"Scott Steele, Ma'am. I've seen you around. I'm your dad's mode of transportation for the night." Glancing around Whitney to meet T.C.'s eyes once more, he apologized, "Sorry for the wait, Sir, but as I'm sure you can tell, we're pretty backed up tonight."
"No need for apologies, Scott," T.C. nodded in acknowledgment. "I'm sure I'll live."
Incredulous and still not liking knowing just what was going on, Whitney cried out, "Daddy!"
"Sweetie," Eve quickly shadowed her daughter. "Relax. Scott here is just going to take your father downstairs for a quick scan to see if we can confirm Dr. O'Connell's suspicions."
"They think it's Daddy's gallbladder," Simone supplied helpfully. "Love you, Daddy," she said, kissing T.C.'s cheek in goodbye as Scott moved to lower the rail of the stretcher he was on and assist him into the wheelchair.
"Seems my eating habits leave a lot to be desired," T.C. groused, just the slightest bit embarrassed. "Is this," he indicated the wheelchair before him, "really necessary?"
"I could have told you that," Whitney remarked, her earlier panic deflating somewhat as she lightly scolded her father. "And yes. It is."
"'Fraid Dr. Russell is correct, Sir," Scott looked sympathetic.
T.C. looked up to first his wife, then over to his daughter, and finding them both wearing the same adamant expression, he heaved a huge sigh and sank into the wheelchair without another complaint.
"Might I suggest you ladies head over to our fine cafeteria, grab a bit of a late-night snack?" Scott suggested. "This could take a while."
Humor danced in Eve's eyes at the young man's generous endorsement of a cafeteria she, and he, she was certain, found sorely lacking. Still, she had to appreciate his efforts, and her smile more than let him know. "C'mon, Whitney," she took her daughter's arm. "Simone," she held out her other hand. "Your father's going to be just fine. He's in good hands. See you later, Honey."
"I'll be fine," T.C. reiterated when it began to look like his wife was going to have to bodily drag their daughters from his sight. "So…Scott. Tell me something about yourself, since it seems like we might be spending quite a lot of time together tonight," he could be heard saying as they exited the ER and disappeared down the long hallway leading to the elevators.
"Where've you been?" Simone eyed her older sister with interest as their mother steered them in the opposite direction, toward the aforementioned cafeteria. "On a date?"
"It wasn't a date, Simone."
"Anyone we know?" Eve couldn't resist asking.
"Mom," Whitney sighed before repeating herself helplessly. "It wasn't a date."
The young girl was frantic, practically beside herself, and Nick sighed resignedly before patting Lissy's small hand and standing up. "Julie," he looked into the girl's wild eyes. "Julie, look at me," he said calmly. Grabbing her firmly by the shoulders, he repeated her name again, this time raising his voice slightly, if only to get through to her. "Julie. Snap out of it."
"I swear, Dr. Taylor. I wasn't texting or anything," Julie's eyes begged him to believe her. "All of a sudden she was just…there. And I slammed on my brakes and I tried to stop, but…" Unable to continue, Julie crumpled into another bout of tears. "Lissy, I am so sorry. So, so, so sorry. I didn't mean to. I promise."
"Lissy knows it was an accident. Right, Lissy?" Nick looked over to the little girl in question, looking tiny and defenseless on the stretcher, sporting a few scrapes and bruises and a not so-pretty but small and definitely manageable gash at her hairline, but otherwise okay. She was damned lucky, and looking into her wide, guilty chocolate eyes, he was certain the child knew it.
"It was my fault, Julie," Lissy spoke softly. The rest was lost in a mumble of words, because Beth and Ethan arrived, and Julie promptly threw herself in Ethan's arms, sobbing away.
"Mr. Crane, it was awful!"
Beth and Ethan exchanged a look, and Beth stepped forward while Ethan pulled Julie aside, allowing her to tell re-tell her story, and hopefully, Nick prayed, compose herself.
Fat tears welled in Lissy's eyes at the sight of Beth, and her lower lip trembled as she looked up into Beth's concerned eyes. "I'm sorry. Julie didn't have Abby's phone number," she rushed to explain, "and I didn't want to scare her so we called you instead. I'm okay. I really am."
Nick nodded at Beth but otherwise remained mum.
"Sweetie," Beth gave Lissy a soft smile. "We're still going to have to tell her. Your dad, too."
Shamefaced, Lissy rested her chin against her chest. "I know." She looked up only when Beth gently combed her tangle of tawny hair back from her forehead.
"You sure you're okay?" Beth questioned the little girl. "Looks like you might need some stitches." Glancing over her shoulder at Nick, she confirmed her suspicions with a question. "How many?"
"A couple," Nick shrugged. "Three or four at the most." Sliding his palm across the top of Lissy's bare foot, he gave it an encouraging squeeze. "You're a very lucky young lady, Lissy. It could have been much worse. Next time, pay better attention when you cross the road. Especially at night. Okay?" He waited for Lissy's remorseful nod of agreement before turning to Beth. "I'm going to see if I can track down our Plastics resident on call so she can take care of those stitches for you."
"Okay, Dr. Nick," Lissy whispered. "Thank you."
Pulling the curtain closed around the cubicle behind him, Nick paused only long enough to peruse Lissy's chart, note her allergies, before moving on, but it was more than enough time to hear a little nugget of information he might have otherwise missed.
"Lissy." The scolding undertone in Beth's voice could clearly be heard, even from a few feet away. "What were you thinking?"
"I had to find Mr. Tony. I had to. I had to before Ms. Abby did."
So...there you have it.
This isn't actually the entirety of the chapter I meant to post for you guys, but if I'd waited for it to be completed, well, it could have taken even longer, and it's been months. And very, very long.
I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
As always, feedback is love!
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Mistakes are all mine. Be sure to let me know if there are any particularly distracting ones. :D