Well, here it is. My first multi-chapter Phineas and Ferb story (although I'm sure it won't be the last, especially if Icka has anything to say about it). I'm actually quite proud of this one, and hope you'll enjoy it, too.
Oh, and as an added note, unless specifically stated otherwise, this story will not be part of the same timeline as my other Phineas and Ferb stories.
William Connors stood on his front porch with a blank expression on his face and watched as his second soon-to-be ex-wife loaded their two children into her car. Christine gave him one last glare as she walked around to the driver's side door, then quickly got in and drove away. He frowned. She was going to her parents' place, she'd said. Don't even bother trying to come after us.
When he thought of their rocky three-year marriage, he couldn't believe she'd had the audacity to do this to him. If anyone had a right to be unhappy, it was him. He'd given up life as a roadie for her, taken her last name, and gotten a pretty good position at her father's studio as a technician. What had all that gotten him? A nagging wife who made unreasonable demands on his free time, and then wasn't as attentive as a good wife should be. He liked playing music with the guys in the garage in the evenings and on the weekends; what was the harm in that? And if there were women who appreciated a good looking guitarist like him at the random gigs they played around the area, who could blame them? It certainly wasn't his fault. It's not like she didn't know he got that kind of attention before they were married.
And then she had the added nerve to say he was constantly comparing her to his first wife and finding her lacking. That was absolute nonsense. Christine was no pop star, and the less William thought of his "other" wife, the better. At the very least, wife number one had simply set him free instead of making plans to tear apart the life he'd built for himself. Christine promised to let everyone know what kind of man he was, that he'd turned out to be. Especially their kids.
William straightened himself to his full height. Let Christine bring on her worst. He'd bounce back; what kind of lasting damage could she do, anyway? He was an attractive, charismatic man. He had valuable skills that were sure to be in demand - he knew he'd be looking for another job soon enough - and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He'd be fine.
With one last look down the street where his family had disappeared, he ran a hand through his shoulder-length pale blond hair and turned around to go back inside.
Three years later, William knew how bad Christine's worst truly was. She'd been awarded the house and car in the settlement, as well as half of his pension and 401K. He hadn't counted on how popular his ex-wife had been; everyone he knew took her side, no matter how many times he'd tried to tell them the truth. His band had even broken up over the whole mess. The only plus to the situation had been he hadn't been forced to pay alimony. He was paying child support, however, and that on top of the money he was paying for his first two children was straining the coffers, even with the good salary the latest sound technician gig he'd picked up paid him.
Apparently at least half of that burden was no longer going to be an issue if what the letter William received from Christine's lawyer said was true. He was being asked to give up his parental rights to his youngest children. She was citing abandonment, considering he hadn't even made an attempt to see Kendra and Elliott since she'd left him. Great. Like he could have seen them. She never would have allowed it. And she'd told him not to bother trying to come after them. Now he was paying the price for it.
Whatever. If that's what she wanted, to break the last connection between them, so be it. She could raise the brats on her own and see what that got her. He'd move on to the next deserving woman who would be honored to get his attention, and he'd be just fine.
He ignored the ache in his heart his signature on the TPR papers caused two months later.
Over the next couple of years, William found himself spending more and more of his free time spying on Kendra and Elliott's activities. He timed his lunch hour to allow him to watch them play on the playground at daycare. He sat unobtrusively in the park near their house and watched them play there once Christine had returned from work. He discovered that Thursday was their family night to eat out, and discretely followed them to the restaurant of the week. With every smile and giggle, his heart broke a little more, though he shoved the feeling aside and let it fester in the dark recesses of his mind.
He couldn't avoid the large crack that happened when he read that Christine was going to marry the boyfriend he'd noticed spending more and more time with her and the kids. He'd burned the newspaper announcement in the sink, then smashed the smoke alarm that had gone off in response. She was even taking his name! How could she? But that was nothing compared to what he found when he searched through the legal announcements hoping to see the new couple's divorce or annulment. He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw that this new husband of hers was adopting the children. They would no longer be Kendra and Elliott Connors. They would no longer be his in any way whatsoever.
The realization made him so numb he never felt his mind snap.
Candace Flynn smiled as she hung up the pile of clothes she'd gotten for her sixteenth birthday the day before. It had been another great day, although she didn't think anything would beat what she'd gotten from her brothers last year. What could top having your face carved into a national monument? It didn't matter that there had been a freak lava flow that had wiped out any trace of it; she'd seen it and loved it. And then there was the fact that Jeremy had thought to give her a gift as well…
This year Phineas and Ferb had performed a song they'd written about her - they said they'd been inspired by the song she'd written for their mother the year before - at a neighborhood-wide concert they put together. It had been the culmination of a multi-media presentation highlighting her best qualities. They'd even been nice enough to use some pretty good shots of her.
The red-haired teenager laughed to herself. Her birthday celebration had been yet another project in the boys' mission to make every day count during the summer, just like they'd done the summer before. She'd tried so hard to bust them for all their shenanigans, never succeeding - and even helping with a few of them. They'd done it again during the Christmas break. She knew she never would have gotten away with doing the kinds of things they did. It was her jealousy over that fact that had been one of the main motivations for her busting attempts.
As much as the boys had returned to their seize-the-day ways once school was done for the year, Candace hadn't returned to her obsessive habit of trying to bust them. She'd missed their first project while on a hike with Jeremy, Stacy, and Coltrane, getting back just in time to see some kind of building towering over the house. She'd had a momentary urge to call her mother, but then Jeremy had gently taken her hand, making her look at him in surprise. And when he'd kissed her, any thought of her brothers and calling her mom had disappeared like fog in the sun. It helped that the building disappeared just after her mom got home and before she would have seen it. Since then, she just hadn't been able to get up the motivation to continue the crusade more than a handful of times. Their antics still annoyed her to some extent, her jealousy and concern still there, but not enough to truly get her going unless it was over-the-top dangerous.
Once she was finished with her clothes, she checked her clock. She had a full schedule that day. She was supposed to meet Stacy at the Googolplex Mall's food court for lunch and some shopping, spend an hour or so with Jeremy at Danville Park until supper, and then, after eating, go for one last practice drive with her mother before her driver's test the next day. She took a brief look out the window and saw some kind of large device being constructed in the backyard - she'd have been more surprised if she hadn't - then turned away with a controlled sigh and headed out. It was just about time to get her own day started, major irritations aside.
Candace had locked up her bike in the rack outside the main entrance to the mall and gone inside before she realized she was fifteen minutes early; she'd forgotten her alarm clock was set that much ahead because she had such a hard time getting up in the morning. She sighed. After all this time, she figured she'd remember that little fact, but no… Oh, well, she'd just grab a soda, find a good people-watching seat, and wait. It wouldn't be that long.
The redhead was sipping on her root beer, letting her eyes wander around the crowd, when someone standing next to her table attracted her attention. She slowly turned her head to the right, hoping it was Stacy but having a feeling it wasn't. And when she saw the tall, lean blond man at least twenty, twenty-five years older than her smiling down on her, she knew her instincts had been right. "Um, hi," she said slowly. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Candace Flynn, right?" he asked in a rough baritone, his smile growing slightly.
"Yes?" Candace answered, stretching out the word, glad she was in a busy public place. Something seemed kind of familiar about this man, but she was still pretty creeped out. How did he know her name?
"You have grown into such a beautiful young lady," he commented, then laughed at her raised eyebrows. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised you don't immediately know me." He paused and gazed at her for a long, silent moment. The hair on the back the girl's neck started to rise. "It's Daddy, sweetheart. I'm back, and I'm going to make up for every minute I was gone."
Candace's eyes widened as she realized what he was saying, then took a closer look at him. Suddenly she could see her own rounder cheeks, fuller lips, and rounder eyes in his face, and fuzzy memories from just over eleven years ago came into focus. She somehow knew he wasn't lying, and the knowledge had her emotions immediately in turmoil. "You can't be him," she whispered, using denial to buy the time she needed to sort herself out.
His smiled faltered and his eyes narrowed slightly before he took a deep breath and calmed himself. "Your name is Candace Gertrude Flynn. You just had your sixteenth birthday yesterday. Your mother's name is Linda Flynn, and her parents' names are Clyde and Betty Jo Flynn. I took your mother's name when we got married. You were born with a strawberry-shaped mark to the left of your lower spine that the doctor said would probably fade away as you got older." He stood up a little straighter and crossed his arms over his chest. "Do you need anything else?"
Candace was tempted to demand dates and places, anything to keep him talking while she continued to struggle to think. Unfortunately, every word he said just confirmed the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Yes, this was her birth father standing in front of her, why she couldn't say. And her confusion made her angry, which made everything suddenly clear. Her eyes widened again. How dare he? How dare he take off eleven years ago - after not even being around that much in the first place from what she could remember - and then just prance back into her life and expect her to jump for joy and into his arms over the fact?
"No, no, I don't," she said in a low voice, her blue eyes narrowing dangerously as she rose to her feet. If anyone who knew her had seen the change in expression, they would have known the impending explosion was coming from a mile away. "What I really don't understand, though, is why you bothered at all!" Her volume rose as she spoke to end on a shout that had people snapping their heads in her direction. Noticing, Candace moderated the rest of her rant at the now-stunned man. "I will have you know that you broke my heart when you left eleven years ago. It took Mom a long time to convince me that it wasn't my fault. So don't think you can traipse back into my life and play at being 'Daddy' again. I won't be hurt like that again. And even more important, I already have a dad, a real dad. Lawrence Fletcher has been there for me when you couldn't be bothered, accepted me from the very beginning, and couldn't love me any more if he tried. So no matter what happened to guilt trip you into remembering little ol' me, you can just forget it! I don't want you to come anywhere near me ever again, and stay away from the rest of my family, too. All you'd do is hurt them, and I won't have it. Go crawl back into your hole and leave me alone!" Her last demand was once again a shout, but this time she didn't care.
"You… you can't mean that," the blond man whispered, the color leaching from his face, his hands shaking at his sides where his arms had fallen at Candace's first exclamation. "You can't."
"I can and I do! Go away!" She pointed at the exit with dramatic flourish. A little voice in the back of her head said it was probably a bit overdone, but it still served its purpose.
He stared at her for a long moment, staring into her eyes as if looking for the truth behind the glare. He finally seemed to realize she meant what she'd said, and when she repeated her gesture, his shoulders slumped and he began to move in the direction she was pointing. "I never meant to hurt you," he said over his shoulder, pausing for a moment. He continued out of the mall when she didn't respond.
Once he was gone, Candace stared after him in a fury for a long moment, then collapsed into her chair and let her face fall into her hands. Never in a million years did she think that William Flynn would come back into her life after all these years. And that he did it thinking he could just go back to being a doting daddy… She groaned. That hurt more than she would have imagined. He'd obviously never considered that walking away the way he did would hurt her. Her feelings had never even entered his mind. And he definitely hadn't thought about how his reappearance would disrupt the rest of her life. All she knew now was that he had better listen to her and stay away - and that she wasn't saying a thing about this little visit to her mom. It would just hurt her and open up old wounds, and Candace would do anything to keep that from happening. She brought her head up. At least she didn't have to worry about him bothering Phineas. He'd been long gone before her little brother was born, and probably didn't even know he existed. Which was more than fine with her.
"Hey, Candace! Sorry I'm late!" Stacy Hirano flopped into the chair across from Candace, making the redhead jump in surprise. "My mom stopped for gas before dropping me off." Stacy paused. "You look upset. Are your brothers building another annoying project in the backyard?" The Asian girl grinned.
"That's just a given," Candace replied lightly, immediately deciding to not say anything to anyone, even her best friend - or her boyfriend later. No one needed to worry. The dejection on her birth father's face at her rejection should have him slinking back to wherever he came from. "I don't even know what it is," she continued with a roll of her eyes, "but it was pretty big when I looked out the window. They just better not break anything."
Stacy laughed, and the two of them went on with their day. If it took a little more effort on Candace's part to keep it light, only she knew, and by the time she met Jeremy in the park she'd managed to push everything to the back of her mind. She refused to let the man who'd walked away from her hurt her anymore. She had a great family and a great life. Nothing he could do would change that. She wouldn't let him.
A week later, the Flynn-Fletcher family was sitting around the table eating breakfast.
"So, what are you all planning to do today?" Linda asked her children as they ate their eggs and bacon.
"Stacy finally talked me into going to Little Duffer's," Candace said with a wry twist to her mouth. She still remembered how that new miniature golf course had come to be in her backyard before somehow flying over to land on top of the old rundown one.
"You'll love it," Phineas told her with a smile. "Stacy did."
"But be warned that she is a master of miniature golf," Ferb cautioned.
Linda and Lawrence laughed. "I remember the video you had saved on your phone of her performance," Linda said to Candace. "She was just a hole-in-one machine that day."
Candace grimaced and sighed. "Yeah, she was. Seduced by the coolness," she finished in a low mutter.
Lawrence leaned forward. "And what are you boys doing with your day?" he asked.
"Baljeet invited everyone to the pool for a picnic and swim party," Phineas answered. "It's going to be a blast!"
"When is that?" Linda asked.
"Well, the picnic's at lunch, so we were going to walk down a little before then," Phineas explained. "We figured we'd watch some TV before then."
Linda smiled at him. "That should be fine. You'll be home for dinner, then?"
Both boys nodded. "Definitely," Phineas said. "We wouldn't miss your cooking for the world."
"Oh, that's so nice." She turned to her husband. "And what about you, dear? I'll be over at Vivian's helping her go through some old clothes she found in the attic the other day. She was wondering if we could sell some of them at the antique store."
"It should be interesting to see what she's managed to unearth," Lawrence commented with a small smile. "As for my plans, I was considering beginning another painting. I haven't done one in some time."
"It's good to know you're all going to have fun," Linda declared, finishing up her meal. She stood and took her plate to the dishwasher. "I'm going to go take care of a few things before I go across the street." She smiled and headed upstairs.
Lawrence also stood up and took care of his dishes. "I need to decide where my muse will take me today," he told the children. "You'll be all right?"
The three kids nodded. "We'll be just fine," Phineas said.
"I'm just waiting for Stacy to call so we can get going," Candace added.
"Then I'll see you all for supper." The older man went upstairs.
"Do you want to watch TV with us until you have to go?" Phineas asked Candace as he and Ferb moved to put their dishes in the dishwasher.
Candace glanced at her cell phone then sighed. "Why not? What were you planning on watching?"
Both boys shrugged. "Don't know yet. We were thinking of channel surfing until something caught our eye," Phineas said.
The teenager sighed again. "Good enough." She rose to her feet and put away her plate and silverware while her brothers went into the living room and turned on the television.
Candace ended up spending about forty-five minutes watching a documentary about platypuses ironically enough, considering the family pet lying on the arm of the couch. Perry even seemed interested in the program for the most part. Well, as much as Perry seemed interested in anything, anyway. When Stacy called, it was with a bit of reluctance that she left; she'd actually been enjoying the quiet time with Phineas and Ferb. But they wished her a good time with a smile and a wave (the words only said by Phineas, as usual, but the gestures were from both boys), and she impulsively wished them the same in return. The widening of their smiles was more than worth it.
It turned out that her brothers had designed a very impressive miniature golf course, Candace admitted to herself when she and Stacy finished their game. And Ferb had been right about how good her best friend was at it. Stacy had left her in the dust, but it had been all in fun. The two girls picked up the pictures that were offered of them in their disco outfits and started the walk home.
"I think I looked better the first time," Stacy mused as she examined her picture.
"Oh, you looked as good this time, just different," Candace reassured her.
The Asian girl gave the redhead a wicked grin. "And now you understand how I could be seduced by the coolness."
Candace frowned. "You're going to make me say it, aren't you?"
"Is there some reason I shouldn't make you say it?"
"I'm sure I could think of something if you gave me some time."
Stacy's expression became smug. "I knew it. You were seduced by the coolness, too."
Candace blinked at her. "I was not."
"You were, too." She pointed at the redhead's picture, specifically at the wide smile to be seen there. "That is the expression of someone fully immersed in the coolness, and enjoying themselves hugely."
"Okay, fine," Candace said reluctantly when she realized there was no denying it. "I had fun."
"You had a blast," Stacy corrected. "You know it."
Candace rolled her eyes. "I had a lot of fun. You don't have to beat the point into the ground." She gave a wry half-grin. "But I'm not telling Phineas or Ferb that."
The two of them laughed and continued on their way.
By the time Candace got home, she could hear her mother in the kitchen making supper as she talked to her father. She found them there, Linda at the stove and Lawrence leaning against the peninsula drinking coffee from his favorite mug. The teenager couldn't help but smile at the familiar sight.
"Oh, hi, Candace," Linda greeted her a moment later. "Did you and Stacy have fun at Little Duffer's?"
"Actually we did," Candace said, then paused and looked around. "Um, are Phineas and Ferb here?" She looked around with a touch of paranoia. She hadn't wanted to admit that to them quite yet.
"No, they're not, and that's starting to make me worried," Linda said with a small frown. "Since they said they'd be here for dinner I'd expect them to be home by now."
"Oh, darling, I'm sure there's nothing to worry about," Lawrence reassured his wife. "The boys probably lost track of time with their friends, that's all." His voice was gentle, but there was something in his eyes that belied the statement. He knew as well as the girls did that Phineas and Ferb were very rarely late and were quite reliable for their age.
Linda shook her head and turned over the pork chops she was frying. "If they're not back by the time I'm finished, I'll give Vivian a call and see if Isabella knows what happened to them. I'm sure there's a logical explanation."
Candace bit her lower lip for a second. She felt the same concern her parents did, with a little something extra she couldn't quite put her finger on. "I'm going to go sit on the steps outside," she said softly. "Maybe I'll be able to see them coming down the street."
Lawrence smiled at her. "That would be wonderful. I'll come get you when your mother's finished with supper."
Candace gave him a smile and headed out the front door, seating herself on the edge of the concrete landing. She sighed and rested her elbows on her knees, then dropped her chin into her hands. "I do not have a good feeling about this," she muttered to herself, her gaze directed down the street toward the neighborhood pool. A chattering sound to her left had her looking down toward her feet. "Oh, there you are, Perry," she said to the platypus standing there. She shifted her cheek to her right hand and reached down with the left to pet him. "At least you made it home." She looked back down the sidewalk and missed the flash of surprise in the animal's eyes.
Five minutes later, Isabella Garcia-Shapiro ran over from across the street, her brows furrowed together in apparent concern. "Hey, Candace. Whatcha doin'?"
"Oh, hi, Isabella. I'm just out here waiting for Phineas and Ferb to get home. What happened at Baljeet's party?"
"You mean they're not here?" the younger girl asked in surprise. "We all thought something had come up at home when they didn't show up at the pool."
"What?" Candace barked, sitting up completely straight. "They weren't at the pool?"
"No, they never came. That's why I came over when I saw you sitting out here. I thought you could tell me what happened." Fear tinged the black-haired girl's voice and widened her eyes.
Candace jumped to her feet. "Come on, we have to tell my mom and dad!" She rushed back into the house, Isabella and Perry right on her heels. "Mom, Mom! Phineas and Ferb never made it to the pool party!" she cried as she ran into the kitchen.
Linda jerked her head to the side at the shout, pulling the frying pan off the hot burner as she did so. "What do you mean?"
"It's true, Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher," Isabella confirmed. "Phineas and Ferb never came to the party. We all figured something had come up here. You really don't know where they are?"
"No," Linda whispered.
"Now, now, darling, there's still no reason to think something's happened to them," Lawrence said in a calming tone that shook slightly.
The red-headed woman took a deep breath and released it. "You're right, Lawrence. The fact that they're not here doesn't have to automatically mean that something bad happened." She glanced at the clock. "They're not even late, really. I started dinner early."
Isabella and Candace shared a look. "But where could they be?" the younger girl asked.
Lawrence looked at her. "You're sure they didn't come up with one of their little plans today? I know they called up to me that they were leaving for the pool, but still…"
"Not that I know of," Isabella answered. "And they wouldn't want to let Baljeet down like that. He'd been planning his party for a couple of weeks in celebration of finishing his summer science camp."
"She's right," Candace reluctantly confirmed. "The party's all Phineas could talk about for the last couple of days. He and Ferb were really looking forward to it. I even told him to quit bringing it up so much."
"I remember that," Linda said, then sighed. "This is totally out of character for them, but I'm not sure there's anything we can do until they've been gone for at least twenty-four hours. Were all the rest of their friends at the party?"
Isabella nodded. "Baljeet, Buford, Django, the other Fireside Girls… Even Irving was there, and he wasn't even invited."
Linda sighed again. "Then I don't think it'll do any good to call their houses. I guess all we can do is wait."
"I don't understand what could have happened," Lawrence mused. "Today was a day like any other. Nothing's happened recently that would make it different."
Candace froze where she stood, her eyes widening in horror. Something had happened recently. She just never thought it would lead to anything like this. "Um, Mom…" she began, not knowing how she was going to say what needed to be said.
Linda looked at her, her eyes narrowing at the tentative tone. "What is it, Candace? Is there something you haven't told us?"
"Well, yes, but not like you're thinking," the teenager said quickly. She took a deep breath. "Last week, the day after my birthday, I was at the mall to meet Stacy for lunch. I got there early, so I was sitting at a table doing some people watching."
"You forgot your alarm clock is set fifteen minutes ahead again, didn't you?" Linda asked, her smile smaller than it normally would have been due to her confusion about where her daughter was taking the conversation.
Candace waved the question off. "Yeah, but that's not the point. While I was sitting there, my father came up to me and told me he was back and wanted to make up for all the time he's been gone. After eleven years, he actually came back!" Her jumble of emotions over the whole situation made her snippier than she wanted to be, but she just couldn't help it.
All the color drained out of Linda's face while Lawrence straightened to his full height as his jaw dropped. "Bill? Bill came back?" the shaking woman whispered, a hand coming up to her mouth.
Candace mentally cringed. She'd known the knowledge would hurt her mother. "So he told me. Then I told him to just go away and leave me alone, to leave all of us alone. He couldn't just show up out of nowhere after eleven years and just expect me to be jumping for joy over it."
"Of course not," Linda whispered. Then she shook herself. "But that doesn't mean he has anything to do with Phineas and Ferb being missing. He was always self-absorbed, yes, but not crazy enough to… to… kidnap children. What would be the point?"
"I don't know," Candace admitted. "But he seemed kind of angry for a minute when I denied his claim of being my father at first. And then he was really disappointed and hurt when I told him to go away. He never mentioned Phineas, so I didn't think he even knew about him, but maybe…" She shrugged helplessly as her sentence trailed off, realizing how far-fetched what she was saying was.
But that's not what Linda was thinking. "No, he knew about Phineas. I told him I was pregnant before the divorce was final, and let him know when the baby was born so he'd understand why his child support payments increased when they did. But it's weird that he's taking such an interest in either one of you to be honest. As soon as I told him to leave he never even asked about you, much less about visitation, not even once." Her brows furrowed. "It never stopped him from sending the payments, but it's always bothered me."
Lawrence stepped closer to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "I know, darling." She smiled up at him.
"Child support payments?" Candace asked, momentarily distracted from the matter at hand. "He sends child support payments? For both of us?"
"Where do you think your personal accounts come from?" Linda told her. "We don't make enough money to fund those and pay for everything else around here."
"Oh." Candace blinked. She really hadn't thought about it before, but she was always grateful for the money that allowed her to keep up with the latest fashions and assured that she could go to any college she wanted. "Does Phineas know?"
Linda shrugged. "I doubt it. He's never asked where the money in his account comes from either."
Isabella cleared her throat politely. "Um, what happened to your first husband after you got divorced, Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher? If you don't mind me asking," she added quickly.
"I heard he got married soon after I did," Linda replied. "Aside from that I really haven't heard much of anything about him, except that he's working as a sound engineer for a record company." She looked at Lawrence. "Maybe we should do a little digging," she suggested.
"Perhaps we should leave that to the police," he retorted. "I think we should call them now instead of waiting."
"I think you're right," Linda agreed, heading for the phone in the living room. "Bill's reappearance has me spooked, and if he has anything to do with Phineas and Ferb being missing…" The dark tone and expression she used finished her statement for her, and it didn't bode well for her ex-husband.
Isabella brightened a bit once the older woman had left the room. "Have any of you called Phineas' cell phone? Or Ferb's? Maybe we can get a hold of them that way."
Candace and Lawrence shared a look, and it was only through a sheer act of will that neither of them smacked their foreheads with the palms of their hands. Candace had her own cell phone out in a flash. "Of course we didn't think of it," she muttered as she hit the speed dial for her brother's number. "It's a simple solution."
The three people in the kitchen straightened when they heard the distant echo of a phone ringing from upstairs on both attempts. They all sighed, realizing that once again the boys had forgotten their phones on their nightstands. "That figures," Candace groused, ending the second call before it was sent to voicemail.
"It was a good thought, though, Isabella," Lawrence told the deflated girl. "They don't always forget."
"No, no, they don't," she agreed half-heartedly. "I wish I would have thought of calling the house when we first thought of how odd it was that they hadn't arrived." She dropped her gaze to the carpet and clasped her hands together over her stomach guiltily.
Candace was feeling her own measure of the gut-twisting emotion. "And I wish I would have said something about… him… coming to see me at the mall right after it happened. I just didn't want to hurt Mom."
Lawrence sighed. "Oh, girls, neither one of you is to blame here. I don't see how doing either of those things would have stopped this from happening, presuming it is Linda's ex-husband who's responsible. You can't let yourselves become overwhelmed by guilt; you won't be able to help find the boys that way." He put an arm around Candace's shoulders and laid a gentle hand on Isabella's.
Candace merely let her head fall on Lawrence's shoulder while Isabella looked up at him gratefully. "It's so nice of you to say that, Mr. Fletcher, especially with Ferb being missing as well as Phineas," the younger girl said.
"Phineas is as much my son as Ferb is," Lawrence declared. He gave Candace's shoulders a squeeze. "And Candace is just as much my daughter. Whoever said blood is thicker than water didn't understand how love really works."
"They're sending over a detective to take statements," Linda said as she reentered the kitchen. "Isabella, I'll call your mom and let her know what's going on. I think they're going to want a statement from you as well."
The black-haired girl nodded her agreement. "Of course, Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher. Anything I can do to help."
Linda gave her a grateful smile. "And as soon as I do that, we should eat. We need to keep our strength up." She once again walked out of the room.
The detective arrived a short time after the four of them finished eating what they could, and he chose to interview the girls first. He listened carefully and took detailed notes, asking carefully-worded questions when he needed more information and thanking them when he had everything he needed from them. Then he suggested they might want to let him talk to Linda and Lawrence alone.
"I should be going home," Isabella said. "It's getting late and I don't want my mom to worry."
"Go with her," Linda whispered as she quickly pulled Candace aside. "At least watch her until she gets inside her house." Candace nodded and escorted their guest out.
The two girls stepped outside and Candace closed the door behind them. Then they both took a deep breath and released it slowly. Isabella glanced at the older girl. "I'm kind of scared," she admitted softly.
Candace gave her a small, shaky smile. "You're not the only one."
"You're not mad at me, are you? For not checking sooner when I knew they were late?"
"No way," the redhead reassured her. "You thought they had a good reason for not showing up when they said they'd be there, knowing it would take something like that for them to miss that party. Besides, even if you had called, it wouldn't have changed anything, not really. The police might have been called in sooner, but the boys would still be missing."
Isabella smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Candace. That means a lot."
Candace's smile faltered. "And I… I hope… I mean, I guess I'm hoping that you aren't mad at me, either. For not saying anything about my birth father showing up at the mall last week, I mean." She shrugged. "It's hard for me not to be mad at myself."
Isabella shook her head. "I'm not mad at you, Candace. You didn't have any reason to think he'd do anything like this, and you knew saying something would just hurt your family. And that's on top of thinking you'd handled it when you told him to leave you alone." She reached out and laid a hand on the other girl's upper arm. "I don't think it would have made a difference, really. Just knowing he was around wouldn't have made anyone think he was going to take Phineas and Ferb."
The two girls shared a long look, then hugged each other tight.
"Wait a minute," Candace said as they drew apart, suddenly straightening to her full height. "I just thought of something. What if Mitch got away from Meap and decided to get revenge? What if that's what's going on here?"
"Oh my gosh!" Isabella gasped, her eyes widening dramatically. "I never thought of that. Do you think we should tell them?" She pointed at the closed front door.
Candace shook her head. "I don't think so," she replied immediately. "I almost called Mom to tell her after you three got taken to Mitch's ship, but when I ran it by Meap I realized just how crazy I sounded. We wouldn't sound any more sane now."
Isabella reluctantly nodded. "I guess you're right. All we can do, then, is watch out for each other in case Mitch comes back for us. If he wants revenge, he's going to want it against all four of us."
"Just what I need," Candace muttered with a roll of her eyes. "I still think my birth father doing something stupid is a better explanation, though. But you're right. We should keep an eye on each other just in case."
"Then I'll stop over tomorrow and see how everyone's doing and if you've heard anything new. I'll see you then. Bye!" She gave Candace a little smile and jogged off across the street to her house.
Candace watched her go and waited until she saw the younger girl close the door behind herself, then went back inside. She just knew this was not going to be a good night.
When Phineas Flynn's eyes fluttered open, he found himself lying on a small bed and staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. His head was pounding, and his vision was a bit fuzzy. And he could still smell something that was sickly sweet…
"Phineas?" a voice asked when the young redhead brought a hand up to rub his forehead. "Are you all right?"
"Ferb?" Phineas asked, suddenly recognizing his brother's voice. He turned his head in the direction the sound had come from and saw the other boy sitting on the edge of a bed staring at him with deep concern. "What's going on?"
"I'm not sure," Ferb replied, relaxing slightly. "The last thing I remember we were walking to the pool."
Phineas dropped his arm back to his side. "Yeah, that's the last thing I remember, too." Suddenly his eyes widened. "Oh, no, Baljeet's party! We must have totally missed it! Man, he's gonna be so disappointed that we didn't make it." He cringed and laid a hand on his stomach. "Wow, I really don't feel so good. What about you, Ferb?" The other boy shrugged and folded his arms over his own stomach. "Then you should lay back down."
Ferb did so, his short green hair splaying out on the pillow. "Mother and Father are going to miss us for supper," he commented.
Phineas cringed again, this time for a totally different reason. "You're right; we promised we'd be home for that. They're going to be really worried." He frowned and checked his pockets. "Did you remember your cell phone? I left mine at home." Ferb merely lifted his hands and spread them out for a moment. "Yeah, we really gotta work on doing a better job of keeping them with us. Any guesses as to where we are or why we were brought here?"
Ferb just shook his head and sighed.
"And I have to wonder who brought us here." Phineas narrowed his eyes slightly as he noticed something. "Hey, Ferb, there's something on your face on either side of your mouth. What is it?"
Ferb brought a hand up and lightly touched the skin to the right of his mouth, shrugged, and pointed at his brother.
Phineas blinked and touched the corner of his own mouth. "I have a mark, too? I wonder what caused it. I mean, we washed up after breakfast and we never had lunch." He sighed. "It's kind of hard to think with this headache, and for some reason there's a lingering smell in my nose that's almost sickeningly sweet. You have that going on with you, too?"
"It's starting to sound like the effects of chloroform," Ferb said as he nodded.
"What do you…" Phineas broke off his sentence with a gasp. "I think I remember something about a cloth over my face, and this smell being on it." His gaze refocused on the intense one Ferb was aiming in his direction. "Something really bad is going on here, Ferb. I think we might be in a little bit of trouble."