CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN

A vein in the side of Ruaz's head bulged with his fury and he pointed at Frank with his knife, "Listen here, you little rat! I never wanted to hurt Elizabeth! You'll never understand such a loss as she was to me. I mourned her like no other. She meant the world to me, and Carson didn't deserve her! I could just as easily have killed his child, but I didn't see why I had to kill hers if it could have been avoided. There's no shame in that."

Joe, who had slowly and discreetly crept from the back of the house to make a wide-berthed circle around Ruaz, now found himself facing Ruaz's back. Frank had spotted him darting from the porch of the house across the street to a bush near the mailbox; Nancy had been concentrated on Misty and hadn't caught the sliver of movement.

As Ruaz swung his knife, angrily pointing at Frank, and rambled on, Misty felt the sudden lack of pressure on her neck. She instantly took the opportunity given to pull herself free of the doctor's grasp just as Joe dove at Ruaz in a tackle. Frank was on top of Joe less than a second later. Together they pinned the man to the ground. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

"Joe!" Frank grunted, "Get that side!"

"Oh, no you don't!" Frank mumbled as Ruaz wormed out of his grasp.

"Frank, don't let him—" Joe shouted.

Ruaz raged, "You're all fools! You'll never—Ahh!"

"Frank!" Joe yelled, "That's my arm!"

"You cowards!" Ruaz screamed out.

"Joe! He's got my—" Frank was cut off, "Ouch! Knock it off you big bulk of creep!" Joe jumped to his rescue, and the three continued to shout and struggle against each other.

"Nancy! Get his knife!" one of them yelled amidst the chaos that ensued.

Ignoring that she didn't quite understand how it had happened, Nancy covered the ten feet between where she stood and where Ruaz had stood in a heartbeat. She snatched the knife from Ruaz's hand, allowing the Hardys to forget their caution for the instrument. She looked around for Misty.

Misty had landed hard on her left side a few feet from the wrestling trio. Nancy quickly ran to her side. She carefully cut the ropes that bound Misty's hands and untied her gag. "Misty, are you okay? Did he hurt you?" Nancy's words flowed together as she couldn't have found a way possible to speak the thoughts as fast as she would have liked. Misty's slow response only furthered her dread.

"I'm fine," Misty sat up. Nancy threw her arms around Misty, holding her more tightly than she had ever held anyone in her life. A tear of relief slipped down her cheek. "Just a little shook up, I think," Misty welcomed the crushing embrace. Meanwhile, the Hardys had effectively pinned Dr. Ruaz face down to the ground.

"You've failed to mention, my good sir," Frank said through gritted teeth, his knee pressing firmly into the doctor's back, "why you did any of this. Why did you want to hurt Mr. Drew so much? What did he do to you?"

"Carson," Ruaz spat the name, the weight of both Hardys combined slightly crushing him and making it difficult to talk, "was the reason my younger sister lost her husband. I wanted him to hurt as much as she had. Carson found his way to make her husband on the death row. He was hung."

Joe wiped his forehead on his sleeve. Both boys were sweating profusely and breathing harder than they normally would have been.

"So it was revenge," Misty whispered. She rose to her feet, made her way to the group of boys, and then knelt in front of the doctor's face. His eyes darted away from hers. He wouldn't look at her. He couldn't. She gazed down at him, curiosity burning in her soul like never before. In front of her lay the very man that had abducted her, killed her mother, and destroyed her past…all for what? To avenge a man he had probably fought very hard to keep out of his family in the first place? What power was it that could drive a good-hearted man to such cruel intents? she wondered, What evil force could so easily grasp a man so tightly in it's clutches as to reshape the very inner character of that man?

"Why can't you look at me?" she dipped her head down close to his, "Why won't you face me? Is it because you've lost? Is it because you've failed?" He didn't respond, only turning further from her—as far as his position would allow. She continued in a hushed tone, "Is it because…because of who I am? Because I've managed, despite your utmost efforts, to prevail? You intentionally placed me into McGraver's Home. You knew what kind of a place that it was. You knew what you were doing. It was no innocent decision. You kept me alive to see how I would fare. You didn't want to end my life, only to fill it with the utmost misery. You wanted me to turn the way you had inside. You wanted me to close myself off from the world. You wanted me to harden inside to the point of no return…as you had…" She paused, the grief of what she had borne in her young life catching in her throat. Then she continued in a voice so low that only those closest to her—the doctor and Frank—could hear, "But you didn't know who I was… You didn't know…what I was made of… You expected me to crumble and fall, to give up. But what you didn't anticipate was the blood that pulsed through my veins. The blood of Elizabeth and Carson Drew. The blood that would make me who I am. I am a Drew… And I always will be. No one… no one…and nothing can take that from me. Not even you." And in that instant, she let go of all that she had held to herself. It wasn't her fault that Nancy had never known her mother. It wasn't her fault that Carson had lost his wife. It wasn't her fault that Elizabeth had died. It wasn't her fault. Nothing was. Her past finally became just that…her past, and nothing more.


Misty bubbled over with laughter. Tears strolled down her cheeks of their own accord. She couldn't stop. She giggled like a little school child with too much sugar and not enough sleep.

The light of the campfire splashed across the group—the Drew sisters, the Hardy brothers, Bess and George, and Ned—dancing in flickers of unpredictable light. The stars shone brightly above, white as day against a blanket of black, in a clears night sky. The cold night chill was forced back by the scalding warmth of the fire that the group surrounded. The heat bubble seemed only to reach so far and then it just ended. So, you were either slightly too warm or chilled to the bone. The friends had chosen to be slightly too warm. Some of them risked the chill by sitting just at the edge of the fire's protective circle, while few of them dared the searing oven as the edged ever closer in order to cook their hotdogs thoroughly enough to meet their liking.

"Oh, and then Ned rushed around the corner!" Nancy leaned in to him as she spoke, her own laughter tingling inside her like too much warm wine, "I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw us!"

"Hey call me what you will," he smiled, "I only sought to help."

"Yeah, Nickerson," Joe grinned at the memory, "You and the whole battalion of the River Heights police force that blared in behind you. I only can't figure this…Why were you on foot when they were all in vehicles?

"I ran straight from across town as soon as my father told me who had asked of him after Nancy and Mr. Drew. I called the police from my cell phone as I ran. I didn't exactly come with them."

"My night in shining armor," Nancy smiled up at him.

He kissed the top of her head and then tightened his grip around her.

"And to think, the only thing that kept Sanso and Tilly alive…was staying here in River Heights," Joe surmised, "Neither of the Veronens dared to dispose of them while they were still here."

"I don't suppose that it helped that Sanso isolated herself so," Frank added, "It's somewhat ironic, if you think about it."

Misty's giggling subsided and the group became silent. They reflected on all that had happened in the last few days and even weeks.

Once the police had shown up, Ruaz had been taken into custody immediately. Mr. Drew and Hannah had returned as soon as word had reached them of what had gone on. Mr. Drew encompassed both of his daughters in an embrace. He had taken one look at Ruaz and then turned away. He didn't want anything further to do with the man. Carson had gone to shake both of the Hardys hands vigorously, but could only clasp each of them into a hug as well. Hannah had cried all over both Nancy and Misty. She vowed to bake them every sort of treat imaginable and had said that she would never again forget to mention where she was going on her notes. Bess and George had been shocked as well upon hearing everything that had occurred. All in all, the case had finally been wrapped up.

Misty burst into another fit of giggles. Everyone looked expectantly to her, if not startled by the sudden lilt. She started to explain, but could only giggle all the more for it. Finally, she came around to have enough control to speak her mind, "What happens…" she giggled again, "What happens to a twenty-seven year old, male, albino ox when you dump a bucket of water on him?"

"What?" asked George. She couldn't help but laugh because of the absurdity of the question. Bess made a twisted face, but she could only laugh at Misty's merriment. Ned looked to the others, confused.

"What kind of a question is that?" asked Joe, smiling. Frank smiled too, wondering from where the question had emerged in the first place. Nancy burst into her own spurt of giggles just thinking of the possible answers.

"Wait, wait," Nancy sputtered between her snickering, "Wait! What's the answer to the question, Misty?"

"Guess!" she started to giggle again, "It's a riddle. A joke. I want to hear the best that you can come up with! Everyone has to make a guess."

Joe yelled his out first, "He shrinks!"

"He changes colors!" Bess smiled, "From white to rainbow colored!" Misty just shook her head and laughed all the more.

"Heee…" Ned thought aloud, "becomes a talking ox?"

George joined in, "It was an enchanted bucket of water and so he stays dry for the rest of his life, even when it rains!"

"No, no," Nancy smiled, "The love of his life appears and then walks away because he's wet."

"No, but you're very close, both of you," Misty smiled, "It's very simple really."

"Frank you're the only one that hasn't guessed," George poked him in his side, "What do you think?"

"Well," he said, crossing his arms and furrowing his brow for effect. He took on a very serious tone, "As none of you have proven clever enough to speculate correctly, the task obviously falls upon me to do so." His friends surrounding him laughed at his mocking tone. "Let me see what I can deduce," he continued. He pointed a finger at Misty, who sat on the opposite side of the fire from him, "Your comments will be your downfall, oh Master of the Ox Riddle. For, your riddle is no match for me! I'm a detective, you know." He couldn't help but laugh at himself. As soon as he re-gathered his composure, he continued, "What happens to an albino, twenty-seven year old, male ox when you dump a bucket of water on him? You said that George and Nancy were close, so what did their guesses have in common that none of the others' did? Magic. No, you said it was simple. What would be the simplest of answers?" He thought hard. "I give up. He gets wet? I don't know," Frank shrugged his shoulders, unable to keep up the pretense any longer.

"Yes!" Misty burst into another fit of laughter, "He gets wet!"

"Aww!" Joe wined, laughing with the rest of the group, "that's cheating!"

"I know," Misty nodded her head, still laughing, "It's an awful joke, but that's what makes it so fun!"

"I've got one!" George smiled, "What do pigs give out on Valentine's Day?"

"Hoghearts?" guessed Ned.

"Valenswines!" George responded.

"What did the cowboy say to the pencil?" Ned asked. He paused, "One, Two, Three: Draw!" The group laughed some more.

"My turn," Joe said, "Since I am the master after all. Why didn't the boy tell his joke while ice skating?"

"I know this one!" Misty yelled, her eyes bright, "He didn't want the ice to crack up!"

"No fair!" Joe said, crossing his arms, "How'd you know that?"

"Cause I know the girl that made it up!" Misty said. From then on it was a battle of wits. "What's your derriere?"

Joe looked confused for a moment, "Uh…your behind?"

"The air in a dairy farm!" Misty fixed him with her gaze, challenging him to do better.

He stared right back at her, "Okay then, why do they have to put fences around graveyards?"

"Because people are just dying to get in!" Bess shouted. Joe glared at her. "Sorry," Bess blushed.

"What's the difference in an outlaw and an in-law?" asked Misty. Joe looked at her long and hard. Finally, Misty gave the answer, "In-laws aren't wanted."

"Oooh, Joe," Frank smiled, "I think she got you on that one!" Joe punched his brother in the arm.

Just then, Hannah walked into the backyard carrying a covered tray. She gave the group a funny look, but only set the tray on a large rock that served as one of the many seats surrounding the fire pit. Just gazing at her facial expression sent the entire group into a new frenzy of uncontrollable laughter. She held up a hand and said, "I won't ask, and I'm not sure I should give you these, but it can only make things worse in the matter of laughing. However, there is nothing wrong with that, if you ask me." She chuckled to herself and walked back inside.

"Oooh!" Joe's eyes doubled in size, "Smores makings!" The group spent the night telling jokes and laughing away their cares. They laughed until they cried and then they laughed all the more. Late into the night, they fell asleep on one another, only to wake to a dead fire and with droplets of dew covering their faces and clothes.

THE END

Okay, so now you dear, dear, dear, dear readers get to leave your final review. You can leave a review for just this chapter or…if you'd prefer one for the entire story. Either way, I'd love any feedback you have. Good or bad. I'll take what I can get. I want to know if I lived up to your expectations or if I just let you down. Tell me the truth. Be honest. Be brutal and honest. Give me your worst!

I'm somewhat reluctant to…to…to finish this story. I've become extremely attached, moreso than is profitable I'm sure. This is the first fanfic that I started. Not the first to finish, but the first huge one! Yes, it has 57 chapters, but hey! I've read longer stories, and some of these chapters aren't so long…he he. I'm thinking specifically of like 16 or 17. I don't remember which it was. Anyway, this is the first…novel length story that I have completed ever. So, I'm really very proud of it. It's a goal reached for me. I mean, 164 pages is a lot! This story became what I had hoped it would…and more.

I want to say thankyou to all of the readers that have held through to the end. I also want to really really thank all of the readers who took the time to review, especially over and over. I really appreciate it. You guys helped me to keep up a semi-reasonable pace. Otherwise, this may have taken…well, let's just say I've got an original project that I've been working on for five years, but I don't have near as much of the plot down as I'd like to. I'd particularly like to thank Sassyk100 and Mrs. FrankHardy and my repetitive reviewers for their constant support. I hope that you will all look into some of my other works, but that's up to you. I promise, though, that none of them are near as long! Ha.

And one last thing…Misty shall return.