Stepdad had known it from the start: he should never have believed that shifty-eyed snake of an orderly. The guy always spoke as if probing you with his words, searching out ways to get what he wanted. If not for the urgency of the circumstances, Stepdad would never have struck that deal or rushed her to the sanitarium—places like that gave him the creeps—never would have handed his own money to that freak, or upped the payment to an amount that felt like a punch to the gut every time he thought about it. "Oh, I'll just forge the signature." "I've done it a hundred times!" And then the guy turned right around and spilled all to the judge.

"Nuts."

Stepdad muttered this while packing the last of what had turned out to be two dozen suitcases, traincases and pieces of luggage. This was a maroon garment bag lying open on his bed, for all his suits—that is, except the dark gray one he'd worn during the trial on his lawyer's advice. Dark colors would remind jurors he was a bereaved man. That suit he had torn off and thrown out the minute he got home from the trial.

But! Good thing he believed in happy endings. Just like she used to talk about happy endings, from the fairy tales her mother had read to her as a girl. He only regretted that she had no longer had the brain capacity to know how it had all turned out...

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury!"

The way Stepdad's attorney thundered, shaking his finger at the orderly on the witness stand! The very picture of penitence was that whiny orderly. Stepdad's attorney wasn't fooled for a moment.

"His idea, my friends. His alone. Was he, or was he not, caught red-handed trying to have his way with the girl immediately after her lobotomy? The sole remaining loved one of a man—just look at that poor man, hes on the verge of tears—so recently bereaved of a wife and stepdaughter! And as if that wasnt heinous enough, the defendant then tried to pin the blame on him!" The attorney staggered, clamped a hand to his forehead—"has he no shame? Has he honestly no shame?"

The ladies and gentlemen of the jury had eaten it up. Twenty-two minutes of deliberation, then fifty years for Mr. Snake! Who—Stepdad grinned—had to be dragged from the courtroom literally kicking and screaming.

And at last, all those millions for me!

Stepdad picked the last suit from the closet, tossed it on top of the rest and, with a bit of grunting and tugging, zipped the garment bag closed. He sighed, wiped his brow and went to pour himself a brandy.

"And now," he said out loud, "I'm off to California."

The phone rang. Its chimes echoed through the halls, could be heard from anywhere in that vast mansion. He drained the glass, followed the ringing to its source and picked up the receiver.

"Hello."

"It's Mel."

Stepdad tensed. Why would his attorney call now?

Maybe now would be a good time to thank him again for his stellar courtroom performance, for freeing Stepdad to the life he'd sought and schemed after for years...

"Mel, this had better be important."

The aluminum-haired attorney spoke with the eloquence of a politician, always wore a perfectly starched and creased suit. He seemed not so much a lawyer as someone who settled for a lawyers job because he couldn't be president. "You know I wouldn't call if..." He trailed off. "Listen. She's conscious."

Stepdad nearly dropped the phone. When he spoke again his voice was hoarse. "Are you sure?"

"Dr. Gorski just called me. It happened about an hour ago. The girl's up and about, remembers everybody, lucid as she ever was. And," he added, "she's talking."

Stepdad gripped the phone tighter. The whole nightmare of the past month rushed back and shuddered his overweight frame. "Don't play games with me, man! Are you really sure?"

"I can only tell you what Dr. Gorski said. I asked her that same question, more than once, and yes, she's as certain of it as her own name."

Stepdad's knuckles turned white; any tighter grip and he might crush the receiver. He should have known it was bad news—this was the same phone he'd been using the night she came storming out of her sister's bedroom, pointing her gun at him.

"How?" he croaked.

"Here's what Dr. Gorski thinks happened. There are two cases on record, only two, of lobotomies reversing themselves. Different countries, different doctors doing the procedure, but the patients had one thing in common: both had unusually rich imaginations—stories, fantasy worlds. Its as if—once more, this is according to Dr. Gorski—as if exercising those imaginations somehow strengthened and healed their physical brains, even after a violation of this degree."

Stepdad ignored that last part. His mind raced back: all the pulp magazines packed into the girl's closet and piled on the end table next to her bed, The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings that she spoke so much about, her school studies of feudal Japan and the World Wars. She had devoured it all, yes, and more besides.

"Mel." He clutched the phone like a lifeline. "What are we going to do?"

"We?" The attorney snapped as if in a courtroom. Stepdad shuddered, and suddenly felt like he was now on the stand. "We aren't going to do anything. Not if she remembers everything you told me about. And Dr. Gorski assures me that the girl recalls every single little detail. Know what that means?"

Stepdad closed his eyes. "What, Mel?"

"It means I can't help you. You're on your own."

Click.

Stepdad stood listening to the dial tone for a moment. Then he very slowly replaced the receiver in its cradle and sank down onto the sofa and placed his head in his hands.

For some unknown reason, all he could think of was how he'd derided her for it. Often at the dinner table, where she chattered out weird tales for her mother and sister. Derided her for—what was it?—living in her own world. Yes, that was it. Her own world. "Never do you a bit of good in real life," he had said, or snarled or shouted, depending on how drunk he was.

And as his world crumbled around him, Stepdad wondered if she remembered that, too.

Author's note: the two case histories are fictional, although it's a nice thought. If readers like this story, I can continue it, and we can see where it takes us from here.

In any case, fellow fans, thanks for reading! :)