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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Todd Revisited: Scarred (Chapter 37)

He turned and tossed on the bunk, salvaging pieces of dreams, each time he woke; Jack coming and calling him Dad; Blair lying beside him, sometimes on top of him, sometimes under.  He could see it clearly, even though it seemed like years since he held her that way; Starr and Hope in the sunlight, both dressed in gowns like the toys Hope played with; him, as Beast, spinning Hope in the air; and him, years back, in a clinic, away from his wife and daughter a different time and place.


"I don't want either of you back, again.  And I will make it happen.  I'll prove it."  A piece of him felt pangs when he said it; he really didn't want to let go of Tom, ever, but he seemingly had no choice, because whatever he was telling himself about Pete, was making Tom go, too.  He waited the rest of the morning and into the afternoon for a response regarding Dr. Asper.  Around 2:00 p.m. he got one.


"Mr. Manning, the doctor says he will see you tomorrow."


"Tomorrow?  What, he's too busy today?"


"This is what he has told me to report to you.  He will see you tomorrow, first thing in the morning."


"All right,"  he decided to lay low and not cause a scene.  After all, why would he be so enthusiastic about seeing the doctor?  It might cause suspicion.  "Thank you."


The nurse exited, and the sway of her reminded him slight of Alice, the nurse he'd met during his time on parole.  


He jumped from sleep.  Alice.  She was a little thing, but something very sweet about her kept with him, even now.  Then, with more thought, he realized it was that she had tried to believe in him, even when no one could.  She was probably the first one, aside from Blair, who ever really did give him that after the rape.  Rebecca, well she was infatuated with him.  And now, she was dead.  He thought of her soft curls and innocent eyes, and paused to gather himself.


He sat up on the bunk.  He was able to see now, after really being in love with someone, and finding his life's kindred soul, that Rebecca was more in love with the idea of his darkness than anything else, but at the same time, she had shown him he could change.  He was able to keep this in his heart and mind's eye as a reminder of what he had with Blair.  Somehow, the two of them had come full-circle and were made for each other in so many ways.  It had taken him longer than he wanted to admit to learn it, but now it was an indelible lesson that was never to be erased.  And somehow, he had to get OUT of this jail cell and back to her to tell her just that.  First, prove his innocence, or better yet, get Tea to do it.


He remembered all too clearly the time in the clinic in Ireland.  He momentarily looked down and could still "see" the lacerations on his wrists from his own scratching in terror, but blinked to see them gone.  Touching his face, the scar on his cheek was the same as it was in the Swiss clinic.  Throughout everything, the scar was there.  And he knew, right then, that moment, back in 1996, in his deepest place, the scar WOULD HAVE TO BE THERE for the rest of his life.  Regardless of his money, or his resources, he couldn't take it off or get it removed.  He brought his hand to his face and felt it again.  When he was in that clinic all those years ago, there was the perfect chance to have it removed, if he had really wanted to.  Money was no object and there were experts all around.  But he knew, as he did now, the scar HAD TO STAY.  It reminded him of who he was and who he could have been if it were not for the love of people like Rebecca, and Vicki, and Blair.  It was a reminder that would keep him remembering where he had come from and how far apart he was from that man, as well as how close that man was to emerging if he allowed it.


No, the scar stayed.


So much had happened.  And, somehow, he found himself in a cage, again.  With his brother dead, his son wanting HIM dead, and his resources all gone, he could do nothing more than put his head into his hands.  Except, there, for the last few days across from him, was his mother, Irene, sitting casually by, like a lizard waiting to reach with its tongue and grab any passing fly.  At this point, though, he  knew he and his family were the morsels.  Finally, he had found some peace when Bo came to remove her from his sight.  In one way, he was infuriated to think she was free.  In another way, he was calmer and more focused on the future and his way out of the trouble he was in, with her gone.  She seemed to be an open door to the past eight years for him.


Listening to her had been torture in itself, but when near her, he could only think more about his own torture and suffering over the last 8 years.  With the quiet, he could plan how to get out, he could search his own mind for the location of the "it" she wanted.  Knowing he was nothing more than a tool to her, he had wished for silence or a way to block out her voice, and now, he was alone.  


Just then, a distant cage door opened and standing before him was Tea. 


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Todd Revisited: Quest (Chapter 36)

After Natalie let him have it with the description of the truth about his son, Todd was determined to find him.  He knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but bigger even than that.  It was more difficult than an uphill battle while carrying two kids on his back.  For a moment, he flashed on the seconds that he reached the top of the mountain with CJ on his back and Jessica cradled in his arms.  And he had made it, somehow, he had found the strength to get them to the top, and then, go back for Marty, and do the same with her.


Jack had been destroyed by having Victor as his father.  This Todd knew.  Blair was defenseless, in her own way, against the mechanisms of a pseudo-savant who was playing brainwash.  As much as he loved her, she was no Einstein.  As much as he loved her.  He so deeply knew he did, the question was, what could he do about it, and why didn't she seem to feel the same?  Or why wouldn't she let herself be with him?


The conversation with her began with the typical shouting back and forth, who blames who, same old song.  Until he saw the pain in her face, he would have proceeded, but he knew he had changed.  It had taken years,  loss, near death, and eight years of torture and separation, but he had changed.  None of them could even see it yet; it was too early and their wounds were all still open from the havoc of Victor.  Nevertheless, her face showed how hard it had been to raise her children essentially alone, since Todd would never count Victor as a parent to his children, after the things he did to both of them.  He was certain, as he stood there, that there was more than met the eye regarding Jack and his beloved Victor.


She was surprised when he attempted to take the blame for everything Jack was, because in his heart, he knew that he had something to do with it.  Jack's start as an angelic faced baby that smiled at every turn had been thwarted by being separated from his own mother, at Todd's doing.  He'd never forgive himself for that now, especially since it seemed it doomed Jack from the start.  But Blair had other ideas.  She truly believed that there was hope for Jack, and that he was better than both of them.  Though he'd never admit it, Todd was not sure of that.


Reflecting back on the conversation with her, he realized how much he did not want to have it end the way it did, or be as short as it was, or as full of blame.  He wanted to do it over, and at some point he would, he'd find a way.  His heart had never been torn at as much as it did when she began to cry.  Her tears always brought something from within him to the surface.  So, he had reached to touch her in comfort, and the next thing he knew, she was in his arms, and he held her, turning his head toward her to be able to take in the smell of her hair, which hadn't changed much, when Jack stormed in.


He'd been faced with a lot of anger in his life, but to see his own son seething at him was a switch.  He had always been the seething son, and here he was, the father in the mix.  And slowly, he was starting to see what had been created in his absence, and how deeply wounded his child was.  Jack's words cut like knives, but Todd was resilient; he had been through worse and would probably face more along the way.  But the bitterness in his son was palpable and real.  He and Blair had stood there in the wake of it, hearing the echoes of "Scarface" through the room.  


He had promised they'd fix it, and they would.  And in the past, he did fix things, but never the right way.  He promised himself right then that it would be the right way and not in a way to hurt anyone ever again.  If only he had thought this way fifteen years ago, things could have been so much different for all of them.


He wasn't afraid, even though he probably should have been.  Some doctor's warning had never been enough to stop him.  Even a seeping stab wound and an admonition had not curtailed his efforts to leave the hospital to try and save Rebecca from Powell, with Blair's help of course.   And, it occurred to him, even then she was always his partner in crime - in everything.


He missed her enough to know it was time.  How he would do it was the question, but the idea of leaving was the answer.  And he would, whatever it took.


He searched his mind for Tom, who was nowhere in sight, and in truth, he missed him terribly already. Tom was, as simple as he was, a touchstone and a way to smooth things over in his head since The Big Truth had made itself known.  Now the question was, 'Is The Big Truth the reason I left to go to Ireland?'  Did something make him leave and draw him to the occasion of near-death, so all could be revealed?  These were queries he'd been tossing about since the first time he remembered his name.


Within him, he knew that he would never have another child.  There could be no other child brought into this world with a father like him.  He was unstable, had other people running around in his mind, his adoptive father was a rapist and a sadist, his biological father was a pedophile.  He had no model of what or who to be, and he was even terrified of the baby that was coming, a baby girl.  But running away wouldn't solve it because in him was a draw even greater; to have a family and to be loved.  He had so much trouble facing both of those things over the years, but they were larger than life for him.  He wanted a family.  A real one.  He wanted to have this with Blair.  Not the kinds of things he remembered in The Big Truth as family, but the things he had watched in other families and viewed in television sitcoms.  He knew it was out there, he just had to make it his own.  And the time was right for him, because soon, Blair would be having their baby, and wrapping it in white packaging, and carrying it with care from place to place, and setting the little one near her heart, and letting him set them both near his.


He searched his mind again, this time with dread, for Pete.  Nothing was there.  He called to him, "Pete.  I know you're there, show yourself, or are you afraid of ME now?"


Nothing.


"Pete, let's go.  What are you, a girl?  A woman?  Come out here and face me."


Nothing.


He spoke aloud to himself, "Oh great, Todd, as if Pete's going to get enraged by YOU?"  Then it came to him.  A test.  He had to experience one final test to be certain Pete was under control and that he held that control in his grasp.  He returned to his bed, crawled in, and hit the buzzer.  A nurse followed a few minutes later.


"Yes Mr. Manning?"


"I hate that name.  Anyway, I want to see that doctor, the one, you know that Johan guy.  I am requesting to have a session with him."


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Todd Revisited: Denial (Chapter 35)

Sleep had never come easy, and that night was no exception.  No matter how he turned, or moved, or adjusted, he felt as if he were on needles.  He needed to feel safer, and he needed to feel accepted again by the person who mattered most.  It seemed so long off.


His life-battle with sleep was an uphill one at best.  From being six and dragged out of bed by his collar and tormented by his "father," to spending more time working in evenings than days, to denying himself sleep to avoid dreams, to breaking in to Blair's room at Asa's home to just be able to sleep by her and Starr, Sleep seemed to be the elusive dame in his journey.  And, here he was, beckoning her, but Sleep still turning her nose up at him and heading the other way, hips swaying.  He turned on his side, and decided to try a few tricks from the past.  These tricks he not only used to help him beat insomnia, he also used them to distract from the pain of the torture he experienced for the last eight years.  


First, he would review all of the names of all of Starr's reptiles and insect pets.  He would recite each name and a short description, and if there were a story to go with the pet, he would tell it to himself.  


Another was to pretend he did not want Sleep after all and play hard to get.  He'd get up, work, or do something else.  But, of course, at this point, he had no work and he had nothing else.  And the nap in the park for a few hours earlier was certainly making it harder.


Last, he would imagine Blair in every outfit he had ever seen her.  He would start at the first time he saw her, the white blouse with small stripes and ruffles at the collar, with her hair curled about her shoulders, cascading to the center of her back.  He would go from that to the next, and the next, and the next; snowpants and a puff coat with a scarf; her Christmas dress with the glittery bands on the sleeve ends, and so forth, until Ms. Sleep finally crept into his arms.


"Are you awake, Todd?"


He peeled his eyes open and glanced over his shoulder.  It was the doctor, and he was perched on the edge of the bed.  "I am now."  Todd stretched a bit, and turned toward him.


"Todd, do you feel rested?  Are you all right?"


"I guess, yeah.  I feel all right.  How long did I sleep?"


"This time, you slept from yesterday afternoon until 9 am this morning.  I was going to allow you to sleep longer, and I can if you prefer, but I also thought we might have a talk."


"About what?"  Todd pushed himself up a bit.


"About your treatment, your care.  About your progress.  Example, how are your wrists healing up?  May I?"


"Sure,"  he pulled his arms from beneath the covers.  The air was intrusively cold.  He had been deeply snuggled in under the sheets and the soft blanket.


Dr. Asper checked them carefully.  "Uhuh, they seem to be healing fine.  Do you remember how you got those?"


Todd squinted a little.  He felt a pang of knowing as to where the conversation would lead.  "No, I don't.  I don't care to, either.  I really want out of here.  That is why I am actually glad you did wake me.  I want to talk about being discharged."


"Discharged, yes.  I am sure you do want to talk about that.  I've not really introduced myself.  I'm Dr. Asper, Johan Asper.  I am not the typical doctor here at the rehabilitation center."


"Meaning?"


"Meaning, I am a psychiatrist, Todd.  I was called in the moment you collapsed in the waiting room and they determined that there was acute exhaustion and extreme confusion.  Of course, it takes someone that studies different kinds of mental health issues to determine the real cause for all of it.  Why you don't sleep well, why you miss spaces of time, and why you appear confused and prone to extreme mood swings."


"You're getting at what, Dr. Asper?  Because I came here for rehab, not for a shrinking."


Dr. Asper smiled.  "I like your style.  You're quite an interesting person.  You're uniquely to the point.  You're not here for a shrinking."


"No, I'm not."


"But this shrinking is what you need.  And, Todd, I fear that without it, something very terrible could eventually happen.  It would be what they used to call a 'nervous breakdown.'  I fear it could include a full-mental collapse.  In time.  But with treatment, and counseling, we could teach you ways to manage it and live normally."


Todd folded his arms over his chest.  "No.  I have to get out of here.  And you're not going to stop me.  I have a child on the way.  I have to get home.  My wife . . . she needs me and I," he stopped, choking up, "and I need her.  She quiets my head down.  She makes things right."


Dr. Asper listened intently.  "She sounds like someone that loves you very much.  Let me call her, and she can come here and live here while you are in treatment.  We have a full facility, she can give birth here, if she has not already, and she and the child can be part of your recovery."


"I can't.  I have to go home to her.  I don't want anyone poking around in my head and I'm fine.  Are my physical injuries a problem?"


"No.  In fact, Dr. Allen states that all of your physical ailments are gone.  With the exception of the wrist injuries and the stiffness in your back and legs, you're perfectly fine.  You've healed well."


Todd flashed on Aman and Lilly's faces when he told them it was time to go.  "I had great caretakers, the best."


"I'm certain of that.  But Todd, I cannot force you to stay here, this I know.  By law, you have to commit yourself to this process.  I can't detain you; it would be unlawful restraint, and even if I appealed to a higher authority, you would get around it by making certain that your other two alters were quiet when you were interviewed.  This I know from experience.  You would give all of your effort and emotion to controlling them."


Todd was shocked, and certain it showed on his face.  "Alters?  What are you talking about?"


"Todd, please.  I've just told you that I can't force you to stay here against your will.  What difference will it make if you admit the truth to me?"


Todd thought for a moment.  Tom was shaking his head, "Tell him Todd.  He's nice.  He can help us!"  Pete was nowhere to be seen for the moment.  Something had silenced him a bit.


"Ok let's say I DO know what you are talking about.  What does it matter?  It doesn't change anything.  I have to go home, I need her.  I need to be with my wife and my new baby daughter.  I need to get back to my life.  And I don't need your help."


"Again, I can't force you to stay.  I just want to caution you.  You're not as in control as you think you are."


"I am.  I definitely am.  I can control my own life, and if I am with her, I will be fine.  All of the noise and commotion in here fades."  He touched his finger to the side of his head.


Dr. Asper stood up.  "Todd, I fear this is a grand mistake.  Possibly the largest one you've ever made.  Again, it's against my better judgement to encourage you to do anything but let me help you.  I have a great amount of experience with multiple personality disorders of all kinds, including DID.  I can help."


"You're sick.  You just want another patient to examine and get well-known for.  I don't have 'alters' or anything else.  I just needed sleep.  Acute exhaustion, wasn't it?"  He turned his head.  Regrouping, he said, "You're imagining things.  I'm not going to be your pin cushion or your poster boy for wackos.  I want to get out of here."


"I see."  Dr. Asper stood looking at him, planning his next move.  "You're ready to face the world, now that you have remembered that you were raped by your father as a boy?"


Todd jumped from the bed, and grasping the doctor's coat by the collar, he jacked him up.  "You shut your filthy sick mouth before I shut it for you!"  


Tom scrambled inside Todd's mind.  "Pete!  Pete!  Stop!  Todd, stop him now!"


Todd was right on the case, though, before Tom even spoke.  Letting go of the coat, he forced Pete back into the shadows and settled himself.  Changing his facial expression, he said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that.  I was not really prepared for that, and people won't just be walking up to me saying it at home.  Now that I know it happened, it's over.  I'm fine."


Dr. Asper said, "I accept your apology Todd, but that was Pete's doing, and you know this."


Todd said nothing.  Tom cried out, "Talk to him Todd!  Maybe you should listen."  


Dr. Asper continued. "And, what makes you think Pete will stop himself when he's confronted with things back home?  When he's taking care of a little girl?  When things go wrong, or you go without sleep, or when you are confronted with being intimate with your wife for the first time again after your experiences?  Or what about when you have to explain to your wife all about your life while you were gone?"


Todd sat on the edge of the bed.  "Doctor, I appreciate this concern.  But I promise you, when she's with me, things are so different.  I'd never let Pete near my daughter or near Blair again, I'd die first."


The doctor made no hesitation.  "Possibly, yes."


Todd turned away.  "I'm sorry, I'd like to be alone now.  Please go away."


Dr. Asper did as Todd asked, without looking back.  


Todd looked out the window.  It was a gorgeous day, and he wondered how Blair was doing without him.  He knew he wasn't doing so well without her.  His eyes filled with tears.  "I gotta go home.  Tom?  I gotta go home."


"I know, Todd, I know you wanna.  But, Todd, what about Pete?  What if Johan is right?"


"I can control Pete.  I'll prove I can.  First, we gotta do without sleep.  The less hours the better. I'll keep it to two hours at a time."


"Todd, is that good for us?  I mean, don't we need more?"

"I don't need more," he said, pacing.  "I can do it.  Done it before."


"Ok Todd, I believe you.  But what about Pete?"


"I'm getting to that."  He stopped and paused by the window.  The curtains were white and blowing slightly in the breeze.  His hair, just above his shoulders, moved gracefully in the air.  He hugged himself across the chest.  "I'll just make sure Pete never comes back."


"How?  He was born, like me, Todd.  He was born to protect you.  You know it.  Well, now you do."


"If there's nothing to protect me from, then what?  I don't need protection, Tom.  I'm strong."


"But Todd, you can't just make it all go away . . ."


"Oh yes I can, Tom, shut up!  Quiet!  It's done, it's gone.  No more!  Don't you ever talk to me about it again.  Ever.  Don't ever bring up what happened with Peter Manning or in Ireland again."


Tom  had jumped almost out of his skin.  Todd had never spoken to him that way.  He slowly took steps backward.  "Ok, ok, Todd.  Ok.  I won't."  As Tom moved back toward the shadows, he quietly said, "I'm scared, Todd.  I'm real scared."  And with that, he was gone.


Todd's eyes had been brimming with tears, and just then, watching his life-long friend and protector vanish, he was unsure where life would take him.  Now that he had known about Tom for months, could he really live without him?  He would work at it, day and night, to make certain that Pete never set foot out again.  And if that meant Tom had to go, too, then Tom had to go, too.  He brushed the tear away with his hand, catching sight of the healing gouges on his wrist.  The words of the doctor came back to him; ". . .something very terrible could eventually happen.  It would be what they used to call a 'nervous breakdown.'  I fear it could include a full-mental collapse."  And at the same time, he heard Blair's voice, as she stood in the stables, with her green eyes focused on his, "What are you afraid of, Todd?"  


He was afraid of nothing, and no one, and certainly not a figment of his imagination named Pete. 


Todd woke at the first light of dawn.  Ms. Sleep had met her match, and his dreams were full of light and color and the past.  Remembering his letting go of Tom had made him wake up wistful, even though the boy later made an appearance more than once over the years, and had returned to him, full-time, after whatever had happened in 2003.  If it were not for Tom and Pete during the eight years of captivity, and yes, even The Dark Mass, he knew he would not have been whole and able to return to his life.


He knew what he had to set out to do that day, and wasn't really looking forward to it as much as to seeing her.  Or possibly seeing her.  Even if they fought, or did their "dance," or just saw each other, it was a sight he so needed, for as he had always said, when she was around, all the noise and the craziness in his head was fixed.


Todd Revisited: Assistance (Chapter 34)

The doctor fixed his clothing and rubbed at his neck.  He jotted some more notes on a pad and shrugged off the incident, as the orderlies raced into the room.  Todd was already out, like a light.


"Doctor, we heard the commotion outside..."


"It's over with, gentlemen.  Thank you, though."


"You ok, Dr. Asper?"


"I am fine.  The patient, well that is another case altogether."  Dr. Asper walked from the room, shaking his head.  The orderlies followed.


It was not until the next day, when light poured into the room from the windows, that Dr. Asper came back to see the patient stirring in the bed, rubbing his eyes with his fists like a child, and yawning, carelessly.


"Doc? Are you ok? God Doc, we're sorry!"

The doctor looked at Todd quizzically. "Todd?"

"No, he can't talk right now, he's . . . he's . . . unavailable I guess." Tom yawned. "Did you give us a shot or something?  We felt a pinch.  Well, I mean, I did."

The doctor nodded, scribbling something on his notepad. "And you are?"

"My name's Tom." He extended a hand, and the doctor took it and shook it, smiling again.

"Hi, Tom. Nice to meet you. And I mean that.  I am really concerned about . . . all of you."

Tom smiled. "All of us?  You mean, you know?"

Dr. Asper nodded.  "I just want you to relax, Tom, and not worry.  I'm not going to hurt you, or judge you."

"That's nice, because a lot of people probably would.  Not Aman and Lilly, though, they loved us.  Even Pete."

"Can you tell me about Pete?"

"I'm really not supposed to talk about it, Doc.  Honest, you seem nice and everything, kinda like Coach, but it's really supposed to be private."

"But Tom," he paused, patting the patient's shoulder, "this can't go on.  You know?  Don't you think that . . . that Todd is tired, or needs some kind of support?"

"Pete won't let you.  That's all I'll say.  Something bad could happen."

"Like what?"

"Pete's real mean. But he has a reason. We all do, kind of. I just can't be mean because I know it's wrong.  I help Todd.  He and me, we take care of each other."

"Why do you have to help Todd?" The doctor asked.

"You know, Doc, I am really tired of saying Doc. Do you have a name or something?" He talked through yawning.

The doctor smiled. "Sure. I'm Dr. Asper. But you can call me Johan."

"Ok. Cool!"

The doctor continued to be amazed.  The young man he was speaking to could not have been more than 13 or 14 years old.  "Now, you were saying about helping Todd?"

"Yeah." Tom became agitated, "I help him, but I'm not supposed to tell anyone what I help him with."

"He might not. But he also might need you to tell someone."

"We just told Aman and Lilly.  They were the first people who ever knew.  Well, outside of us, and Peter."

"Peter?"

"Peter Manning.  Our father.  Well, he adopted Todd.  Our real father was Victor."  The face changed.  "He was a really bad guy, too."

"I see.  Well, Tom, don't you want Todd to get well, and be able to leave here?  He's really tired, he's not slept well in what seems to be weeks."  

"He HAS to get better, Johan.  He has a wife and a baby waiting."

Dr. Asper showed concern on his face, and folded his arms, crossing to the window and looking out.

Tom thought about it. Pete was nowhere. Todd was . . . staring off. Tom had seen him that way before, like he was studying nothing.  "I know what you're thinking about, Johan.  You're thinking how can he go home to his baby and his wife if . . . if we're around?  Especially Pete."

The doctor turned quickly and reapproached the bed.  "Yes, Tom, I was thinking that.  Aren't you?  I mean, you would love and care for that baby.  You would help his wife.  What would Pete do?"

"Pete might stay away.  Blair was the only person who ever got us to stay quiet.  Todd didn't need wither of us much when she was there.  He kinda didn't even remember us.  I don't think he even really KNEW about us until . . . well, it's hard to explain.  He kinda knew, but he didn't, you know?"

"Yes, I know.  I'd like to speak to Todd, if you don't mind, Tom?"

Tom checked back and saw Todd still motionless.  "He's not able to talk now."

"I know. But you are. Right?  You are able to talk and you are able to get him the help he needs, right?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Do you want to tell me anything?  Is there something you think that if I knew, I could help Todd?"

"I dunno.  I mean, can you help us? No one has really been able to help us, mostly 'cause Todd didn't even know that Pete was in charge for a while. Then, Pete did some really bad stuff. Then, Todd pushed Pete back really really far, and he didn't come out for a long time. Plus, Todd was happy. Like I said, Blair makes me and Pete both be quiet. For a long time.  Probably, if we went home, he'd be okay and we could be quiet again."

"Why aren't you quiet now, Tom?"  

Tom thought about it for quite a bit.  "Maybe 'cause Todd got shot, and it was like the day or two after he finally married Blair for real.  He was so happy.  We didn't come out at all, because he was so in love with her and ready for a new life.  It didn't look like he needed us.  But, then he finally remembered it all.  He was separated from her so long, and he almost died.  And, when he was with Lilly and Aman, he was in so much pain.  It took him so long to get better and not hurt so much."  Tom thought more, "I dunno, it was just too much to take, I guess.  We had nightmares every night.  We hadn't had nightmares since . . ."

"Since?  Tell me more, then.  You've already started.  I promise to never hurt Todd."

"Statesville.  Todd was in jail once for bad stuff."

"Did he hurt people?"

"No.  It was Pete.  But, Todd had to pay for it."

"And since the jail, had he done anything else bad?"

"Well, Pete came out once and almost made Todd lose Blair forever, but she forgave us because she loves us."

Dr. Asper stopped and let Tom rest a moment, smiling.  "It's good that you are loved by her.  What did Pete do to make her almost go away?"

Tom thought about it. Pete was not there, Todd was still not moving, not stepping forward, not stopping him. "I'll only say it because . . . I trust you, you seem like you really want to help."

"I do.  Isn't that why Todd is here?"

"Yeah."  He stopped.  He had started tossing an empty cup in the air, watching it.  "I guess so."  He grabbed the cup at last and put it down on the table.  "He almost did to her what our father did to us . . . and what Pete did to the girls."

Dr. Asper stopped short. Wiping his glasses, he returned them to his face. "Really? What was that?"

"Well, one night, Todd though that Blair didn't love him, that she was with some other guy. So he almost raped her."

Dr. Asper stopped for a moment, scribbling on his pad. "Is that what happened to you?"

"Yeah, kinda, I mean, no, not me, Todd. He wouldn't let me take it for him. It was real bad. Pete was born that night, you know. Then there were three of us. Pete tried to kill our Dad."

"And when were you born?"

"When Todd was six."

Dr. Asper found the ability to smile. "Thanks, Tom, I really appreciate talking to you. You were really helpful.  You should be proud of yourself, because, after all, this was hard but it was something that will end up helping all of you.  You know that."

"Sure thing, I like to help. That's what I do. Is Todd going to be ok?" Tom winced.

"Yes, I think he will.  If he gets the proper help.  Now get some rest."

"I don't see Pete. Who will stop the dreams?  The bad ones?  They've been real bad since we got here and Todd started to sleep again."

"Don't worry about the dreams. I will be right outside the door, if you need me, just call. You won't even have any tonight, because you really helped Todd. You're all going to be able to rest.  Watch and see!"

"Gee thanks, Johan. Todd's not been able to sleep good since The Big Truth came out. He kept himself awake on purpose most of the time. He didn't want us to see the dreams anymore." He yawned again, closing his eyes. "Thanks a lot, Johan. Todd will really appreciate it.  Even though you gave us that shot, we're pretty tired."  Tom settled back, pulling the covers to his chin.  "I don't know why we're so tired, but . . ."

"That's okay, Tom.  Just take a little nap.  Rest as long as you like." Dr. Asper said. He turned and walked, surprisingly needing a little support from the bed rails, as he watched the young man fall into sleep, a teenage expression of peace over his angelic, though scarred, face.

Todd woke up on the park bench where he and Blair "met."  He liked to call it that because they really "saw" each other for the first time there, even though they had talked before at Rodi's, the bench was the first time they actually "saw" who the other was.  He remembered he could barely walk away from her that night, and she did the same.  Here it was, all these years later, and he still could not walk away.  The sky was dark now, stars were sparkling here and there, the moon was casting light over him, and he knew what he had to do.  He'd find some place to spend the night, heck, he could even go back to Viki's and get in without talking to her if he needed to; he knew all the ins and outs of Llanfair.  Then, he'd keep trying to prove his innocence, and like Tom back in the clinic, he'd need help, and he'd find it.  He still couldn't really claim his life with this accusation of guilt on his head.  First, clear name, second, clear Victor's bank account and return it to the rightful owner, third, clear the way for The Mannings.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Debt by RLEE

THE DEBT

Things tended to get lost in Angel Square.  The heart of Llanview, Pennsylvania was not all that spacious, but it was still the most spacious public area in town.  Nothing much was distinguishable about it apart from the post in the center and the park nearby.  Some days were busier than others; the size of the everyday crowd really just depended on how cold it was.  This year, the temperature was threatening to drop to below freezing by the end of the first week of December.  Because of this, people were taking any opportunity they had to pass through Angel Square and do their holiday shopping before Llanview became a giant popsicle.
Starr had a natural talent for Christmas shopping.  However, the past six months of her life had been dedicated to preventing her family from tearing itself apart.  The return of her father, the death of the uncle she’d come to love as a father, the struggle to help her siblings cope with the confusion, grief, and anger…needless to say, the season had kind of snuck up on her and caught her unprepared.  Which was why Starr thought it was the perfect time to bundle up her daughter Hope in snug layers of fleece clothing and take her to Angel Square. 
“Can you believe it’s above fifty degrees out here?  It’s supposed to go down by, like, thirty,” Starr remarked to Danielle, whom she’d had to coerce to come along with several guilt trips and promises of “having a fun time.”      
“Yeah,” her sister said, using a dull tone that was drowned out by the song started by a caroling group.  Out of everyone in the family, Danielle was the Manning child who’d had perhaps the roughest time adjusting to the changes the family went through.  Because in addition to losing one father and gaining another one, her mother’s grief had turned into a mental illness, culminating into her admission at St. Ann’s Hospital.
            Hope, taken in by the singers’ rendition of “The Carol Of The Bells,” waddled up to the group.  Standing close enough to keep an eye on her, Starr spoke quietly to Dani.
            “How’s Tea? Has there been any change?”
            Dani’s eyes welled, and she sniffled, “Um, yeah.  I talked to Dad last night.  St. Ann’s told him–they told him…” Her voice trailed off, meaning that her mother had taken a turn for the worse.  Starr nodded, and pulled Dani into a hug.  Dani’s voice cracked as she continued, “Uncle Tomas said he’d stop by here after he visited my mom today.” 
            “It’s going to be all right,” Starr whispered, letting go of Dani.  Sighing, she turned to check on Hope.  “Oh no…” she muttered.  The girl had wandered off.  Her heart skipping beats, Starr approached the carolers.  “Hi!” she said, forcing down the panic that wanted to fly out of her voice, “That little girl, the one who was watching you sing–which way did she go?”
            “Oh,” one of the carolers frowned.  “Someone picked her up.  Wasn’t that man her father?”
“What?” Starr turned around wildly.  “What man?  Where did they go?”
The carolers couldn’t remember any details.  Ordering Dani to call the police, Starr took off.  “Hope!” she cried. She searched every corner of Angel Square, looked around the benches and the park and the playground.  She must have gone around the post fifteen times calling her daughter’s name.  Meanwhile, the number of witnesses dwindled until they had all gone home.  By the time the police showed up, they had grave news: Whoever had taken Hope was long gone.  The afternoon was darkening into an icy evening when Dani’s uncle, Tomas Delgado, arrived.  Starr’s tears were frozen on her face, turning her skin raw.  Inconsolably numb, she had to let Dani explain the situation.
Soon Dani and her uncle were the only ones left with Starr in Angel Square.  Tomas said in a low voice, “I’m sorry, Starr, but the police are saying I should take you home now.”
“I’m not leaving,” she said softly, hoarse from yelling for Hope.
“Starr, the police are going to do their job.  You won’t find your daughter by staying here.”
Starr fixed her gaze upon the post as though she was afraid it would disappear too.  Dani asked, “Do you want me to stay out here with you?”
“Danielle,” Tomas said in warning.  “I called Todd.  He and Blair are expecting both of you to come home within the hour.”  He put a hand on Starr’s shoulder, and said with a bit more gentleness, “You need to be with your family right now.”
Starr trembled.  “I only looked away for a second.”  Her eyes stung, but she had no tears left.  What kind of mother was she?  One who lost her child in the blink of an eye.  One who had no tears left to shed for the daughter she might never see again.
A single snowflake–the first one of the month–swirled its way to the pavement.  Starr watched as it landed.  Before she could blink, it had dissolved and was gone.

*~*~*

Two weeks later
December had never been so cold in Llanview.  Christmas was coming, the storm alongside it.  Blair Manning watched from a window as snowflakes floated to a coating of white at the bottom of the penthouse.  From the living room’s television, Llanview’s local news channel’s meteorologist pointed to a giant map behind him.  
“It’s going to get as low as ten degrees within the next couple of days, so expect to have the blizzard that we predicted last weekend hit Llanview hard and fast,” he announced in his usual cheerful voice.  “We’ll have more to report as the day continues.  Watch out and have a safe holiday, everyone!  We’re going to go back to Monique Clasterling to hear her update on the Marty Saybrook investigation…”
She heard someone coming down the spiral staircase and sighed.  “How is she?” Blair murmured without turning around.
“I managed to get her to eat something,” Todd said, joining her.
She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to attempt a smile or simply cry again, so Blair settled for small talk.  “She had dinner?”
“Some raisins.  Ocean Spray brand.”
She closed her eyes.  “My poor baby girl…”
Todd put his arm around her, and she leaned into him, taking in the comfort of breathing in his warm musky scent.  At the same time, he checked the watch on his other hand and announced, “Viki’s going to be here soon with the gifts.”
Blair nodded, already resigned to sharing the evening with Todd’s sister.  She loved Viki, but she couldn’t see how putting more gifts under the tree for Hope was going to cheer up Starr.  Viki was getting remarried to Clint Buchanan close to Christmas though, and wouldn’t have much time to celebrate the holiday with the Mannings. 
“Where’s Jack?” asked Todd suddenly.
“Oh...he was helping Sam build a snowman, I think.”  Or maybe that had been Dani–Blair honestly couldn’t remember who was doing what these days.  Except for Starr, who seldom left her room and was apparently only eating raisins now.
Todd said he would go round up the kids for visiting with their aunt, but she barely heard him.  After he left the room, Blair continued staring out the window, wondering where her pain ended and where Starr’s began.

*~*~*

Dinner with Viki was a morose affair.  She’d brought her own cooking, for which Blair had to practically drag Starr out of the room to eat.  Dani had helped, since she was the only one that Starr seemed able to talk to lately.  Jack and Sam, in comparison, had been excited enough about the presents, only to find out that they wouldn’t be opening any tonight.
Blair refused to let any of the kids to go upstairs while Viki was visiting, so they just hung around the staircase, pretending to watch the Christmas programming on television while waiting to bolt.  This rule of courtesy that Blair was enforcing kind of hindered Todd, who was hoping to discuss something with Viki in private.
As soon as his wife was busy cleaning up the table, Todd went for it.  “So…Well, tonight sucked.”
Never short on patience or sympathy, Viki asked kindly, “How are you holding up?”
Todd blew some air out the side of his mouth.  “Do you have to ask?”
“No, I suppose not.”
What else can I say? he thought.  If I could, I’d hunt down the bastard who stole Peanut and debone him from head to toe?  Finally, he said in a low voice, “Can you believe the priority of the news reports these days?  Hope’s picture hasn’t been shown for days, but we still get by-the-minute updates on the weather and Marty Saybrook’s escape from St. Ann’s–.”
Viki gave him a peculiar glance.  “How do you feel about what happened to Marty?”
How do I feel about the woman I raped being criminally insane, or how do I feel about her being on America’s Most Wanted?  he thought about asking.  He shrugged instead, thoroughly uncomfortable.  “Viki…if I was in that situation, you’d want me to find a way out of it, wouldn’t you?”
Surprised, she knit her eyebrows together.  “Whatever does that mean, Todd?”  It took her about a second later to ask, “Have you done something?”
Todd didn’t have a chance to respond.  Loud repetitious knocking at the door startled everyone, and the kids stood on guard.  Todd was closest to the door, so he opened it with some trepidation to greet Lieutenant John McBain.
“Who is it?” Little Sam asked, craning his neck to get a look at whoever was at the door.
Todd said loudly, “It’s Scrooge, here to say bah humbug.”
McBain didn’t crack a smile, as usual.  “More like the Ghost of Christmas Past, Manning.  I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Here and now?”
“At the station,” McBain replied.
Todd turned around to see the inquiring faces of his family.  Blair stepped forward, clearing her throat.  “John?  Is there a problem?”
            “There might be.  I’m going to have to take your husband in for questioning.”
            The multitude of reactions was astounding.  An alarmed Viki looked back and forth between Todd and John.  “Questioning? Why?”   Then Dani cried, “What for?” at the same time Jack asked, “What’d he do this time?”
            Starr came to his side, looking very small and frightened.  “Dad?”
            Todd locked into a staring contest with McBain, who came out the winner.  “We need to get to the bottom of this, Manning.  There’s an eyewitness who saw you at St. Ann’s a week ago.”
            An uncertain Dani asked Todd, “You…you just went and saw Mom?  Right?”
            Todd was tempted to say yes, especially when Blair demanded, “Is that it?”
  However, McBain beat him to an answer.  “No, there isn’t any report of him visiting Tea Delgado.  He was seen talking to another patient.”
            While they waited for the good lieutenant to answer, Todd found his attention preoccupied by a broken Christmas bulb planted in the garland that was hanging from the doorway.
            “He was seen with Marty Saybrook.  On the same day that she broke out of St. Ann’s.”

*~*~*

Todd and McBain weren’t exactly friendly, what with one of them being an ex-convict and the other being a cop.  The two men were wary, but respected each other enough to keep themselves at a distance.  Although, Todd did have to admit that he liked the lieutenant a hell of a lot more than any other officer he’d ever met.  Which was why he went to Llanview’s police station with him in a semi-cooperative manner.
They went into the empty interrogation room.  Todd was long familiar with the drill, so he sat down and suggested, “Why don’t you have a seat, Lieutenant?”
“You sit, I’ll stand,” John said in a tired voice. 
“Okay.” Todd leaned back in his chair and stretched his fingers.  “You stand, and you tell me why you hauled me down here.”
John crossed his arms, much like a father getting ready to scold his son.  “While we were looking into Marty Saybrook’s disappearance from St. Ann’s, someone who works there came forward.  He said you were the last visitor Marty had before she vanished.”
Todd shrugged, coming off as indifferent.  “I wasn’t there to visit Marty Saybrook.”
McBain was unfazed.  “That’s right, when you checked in with the front desk and showed them your ID, you claimed you were writing an exposition piece for your newspaper.”
A prickle of impatience started festering inside Todd.  Just what was McBain’s point?  “I was writing an exposition piece.  In case you haven’t noticed, the patients at St. Ann’s are an endless topic for a human interest angle.”
            John eyed him with a flash of doubt before continuing, “Okay, if you say so.  Being there at that time makes you a possible witness, though.  Are you going to deny that you saw Marty?”
            Todd tilted his head to the side, contemplating.  He wasn’t sure whether McBain was fishing for information in order to get a lead on Marty, or just because he was bored and needed to arrest someone tonight.  “I saw a lot of people.”
            “But not Tea Delgado,” John said evenly.
            A bit of sadness tugged at Todd.  In truth, he had asked a doctor about Tea while he was there.  But all he felt like saying to McBain was, “It’s kind of hard to interview someone who’s catatonic.”
            The cop nodded.  “Fair enough.  Look, Manning, if you saw anything that can help us find a lead on what happened with Marty, now is the time to tell me.”
            Todd remembered seeing Marty that day.  She had been lucid enough to answer his questions and tell him that St. Ann’s was treating her nicely.  However, she missed her freedom.  She missed her son, Cole.  And thinking of Marty and her son made Todd think of his own family.  Of Starr, and of her daughter with Cole.  The child who seemed to have disappeared.  The child that no one was doing a damn thing to find. 
            “No,” he told McBain.  “I don’t know anything that can help you.”

*~*~*

            After Todd had gone home, John McBain went to deliver his statement to the commissioner.  “Did Manning give you anything?” Bo Buchanan asked at once.
            John shook his head.  “He says he doesn’t have any information.”
            Bo scratched his forehead in thought.  “And that usually means he’s up to his neck in this.”  He took the report and filed it.  “John, I want you to check the tapes from St. Ann’s security cameras.  Find out exactly what Manning did while he was there.”
            John frowned.  “You don’t think he helped Marty Saybrook escape from the hospital, do you?”
            Signing off on a document, the commissioner remarked, “You said it, not me.”

*~*~*

            Blair had fallen asleep waiting for Todd to come home, and when she woke up early the next morning in an empty bed, she immediately assumed the worst.  Then, on her way downstairs, she heard his voice. 
            “Now you listen to me carefully, you dirty son of a bitch,” she heard him say into a phone.  “You’re going to get your ass back to town now, or I’ll tell everyone– .”  He broke off at the response from the other end, and snapped, “Fine.  You go to hell.”  He hung up and muttered another string of curses before turning to see Blair behind him.  “Hey.”
            She folded her arms.  “That was some conversation.”  Please don’t make me ask, she prayed in silence.  Because she really didn’t want to know what he’d done this time.  This was the man she loved, the one who stomped all over someone’s feelings on one day, then acted to the contrary and treated those same feelings with tender sensitivity the next .  The man who could give away her newborn child to a stranger or trick her into thinking that a group of hitmen were targeting her on one hand, then bring the child back to her or save her life on the other hand.  All in the name of love.
            To her surprise, he didn’t blow her off.  “I did someone a favor and he skipped town without so much as a thank you.  Pretty rude, huh?”
            Great, now she had to ask.  “Was this favor a legal one?”
            He raised an eyebrow.  “Of course.”
            “Todd, what did John McBain want with you last night?”
            “Oh you know, the usual.  He felt like bringing out a bowl of pretzels and watching ESPN.  The poor guy works too much, has no social life whatsoever.”
            Blair was about to interrupt when she heard Starr’s voice exclaim, “Dad!”
            Todd smiled.  “Hey Shorty.  You’re out of your room?”
            “Yeah, I was going to ask Mom if she’d heard from you.  What happened last night?”
            Relenting, Todd told them about his trip to St. Ann’s, how he’d gone to write a news article on the care of mental patients and how John had thought that he might have information on Marty Saybrook’s disappearance.  When he finished explaining, Starr said to him in relief, “I’m so glad that you were just the witness for once and not a suspect.”
            Todd wrapped his arms around her and said as Blair looked on, “Yeah, me too.”
            Then their daughter’s expression turned sad again.  “I can’t lose you too, Dad.”
            “You won’t,” he promised.
            Starr sighed and retreated to her room.  Now that she was gone, Blair decided it was time to play hardball.  “You know, The Sun never printed out a feature on St. Ann’s.”  His face turned into a blank mask.  She added, “And it’s not like you to personally go out and do research on your own.  You have plenty of qualified journalists who could have done that job.”
            “Yeah, well, maybe it’s just a subject that’s near and dear to me,” he said offhandedly. 
            “Because of Tea?” Blair tried.
            He stared at her.  That’s not it at all, she realized, thinking of the phone call she’d walked in on.  What was Todd hiding?
            At last he said, “You know what?  I think I’m going to shovel some snow.”  He headed for the front door.
            Unable to help herself, Blair threw her hands up in the air.  “That’s it!” Her voice stopped him for a moment.  “I want the whole story, whatever it is you’re not telling me!”
            He hesitated.  Then his face broke into a sly smile.  “Put it on your Christmas list.”  He opened the door and left Blair still calling his name.

*~*~*

            Angel Square must have been where hell froze over.  It was cold enough to kill, the weather having reached its predicted extremity.  The beginnings of a snowstorm had driven all the other people away, so it was empty.  Todd walked past the post and into the shopping district.  Everywhere he went, the front doors for all of the shops bore “Sorry, We’re Closed” signs.  Outside the Old Gold and Silver Antiques store, he withdrew his cell phone from his pocket.  The air instantly bit his hand even though he was wearing gloves, and he cursed out of habit.  Fortunately, the phone turned warm while he waited for someone to pick up.
            No one answered.
            Overwhelmed with intense frustration, Todd stomped through the snow all the way back to the post.  Where is he?  he wanted to know.  Hasn’t that bastard gotten what he wants yet? 
            When the job is done, meet me at the post in Angel Square and I’ll pay my debt. That was what the man had said, and Todd was just now beginning to think that he had made a grave error in trusting him to keep his word.
            His phone suddenly buzzed.  Startled, Todd pulled it out to see that he’d gotten a text message.  He wiped the falling snow off of the screen to see only two words: Not yet.
            A small pile of snow dumped from the top of the post onto his shoulder.  Todd grabbed the crumbling lump of white powder, and threw it as hard as he could at the ground with a sputtered yell.

*~*~*

            When Todd got back to the penthouse, Viki was waiting for him.  “Didn’t I just see you last night?” he wondered while she got up from the sofa. 
            “I wanted to talk to you about our conversation last night,” said Viki quietly.
            Todd turned around to take off his coat.  “You should get back to Llanfair before you’re snowed in here for the night.”
On that cue, Blair walked in and told him, “Todd, Viki came by to see if you were all right or if you needed to be bailed out of jail again.”
“I can see that,” he replied.  Viki gave him a pointed look, and Todd said quickly, “Blair, do you think you could give us a few minutes?”
Her mouth twitched at irritation for their secrecy.  “I guess I’ll go check on Starr for the hundredth time today.”
As soon as she was out of the room, Viki began.  “Last night, you asked me if I would want for you to get out of a situation that was similar to Marty’s.  And as soon as I asked you whether you’ve done anything that could get you into trouble, John McBain came and took you in for questioning.”
“Viki, you have to trust me–,” Todd began.
She held up a hand.  “I’m not here to ask questions, Todd.  I’m here to give you an answer.”
Todd shifted his weight guiltily.  “Oh.”
“If you were in trouble with the law, I would want you get out of it.  And I would want you to be very sure of what you were doing.  Are you sure, Todd?”
He thought about telling her.  He could trust her.  Not to mention, lying to Viki made him feel terrible, as though he was knifing her in the back.  But he couldn’t tell her.  Not her or anyone else in the entire world.  So he mumbled, “I thought you weren’t going to ask questions.”
Viki sighed.  “Be careful, then.”  She looked as though she would say something more, but thought better of it and chose instead to pat his arm lightly on her way out. 

*~*~*

For John, it was yet another night of examining evidence.  He was planning on spending all night re-watching the security footage from St. Ann’s, or at least until he caught a glimpse of Todd Manning with Marty Saybrook. 
A woman cleared her throat and said, “Hey.”  He looked up to find Natalie standing in front of his desk.  She leaned in to see a shot of Todd exiting the hospital, donning a heavy winter jacket and a ski cap.  John fast forwarded through the timeframe in which Marty was reported missing, then rubbed his eyes.  “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were here.”
            Natalie tossed her brassy red hair over her shoulder and replied, “I didn’t want to interrupt in case you found anything important.  I was just going to let you know I’m headed home.  What about you?”
            “I need to finish going through the tapes,” he told her.  Then a thought occurred to him.  “Hey, do you want someone from here to drive you?” He didn’t need to elaborate on his question; Natalie knew he was concerned for her safety with Marty on the lam.  Marty had thrown her off a rooftop less than a year ago, and as far as he could tell there was still a chance Natalie was in danger.
            But as Natalie started to decline, her eyes widened.  “Oh my God.”
            John stood up.  He’d seen the same thing she had on the screen playing the hospital tape: Todd Manning leaving the hospital for a second time.  He rewound the tape to the first time Todd walked out.  He did not come back inside. Fast forward to an hour later, and Todd–or someone else dressed in the exact same winter coat and a ski cap–left through the other exit. 
            “Do you want me to get my uncle Bo in here?” Natalie asked.
            John looked to her in hesitation.  “I’ll handle it.  Don’t bother him yet,” he said at last.  Manning, you’d better have a damn good alibi ready.
*~*~*
            Three nights later, Blair received a call from John.  “Is your husband around?” he asked her.  Her glance darted to the foot of the sofa, where Todd was resting.  Starr was above on the couch, engaging in a quiet conversation with him.  Blair said to John, “He’s not available right now.  What’s going on?”
            “I might as well give you a heads up.  The LPD has reason to suspect Todd of helping Marty Saybrook out of St. Ann’s.”
            Blair bit her lip to keep herself from blurting out something stupid.  John kept saying, “When you have a chance, tell Todd we’d like to speak with him again about this.”
            Blair sighed.  “Thank you, I will do that.” She hung up in time to hear Starr whisper to Todd, “What if we never find her?  What if she’s already…already gone?”
            Todd murmured back to her, “I know you’ve already heard things like ‘don’t give up’ and ‘everything will be fine.’  But I’m just going to throw out there that I grew up without believing in miracles.  And then you came along and everything changed.  Shorty, you’re going to get her back.  Trust me.”  He looked up to see Blair standing over by the Christmas tree.  With her eyes, she told him that they needed to talk.  He excused himself, kissed Starr goodnight, and followed Blair up to their room. 
            Blair wasted no time.  “That was John McBain on the phone just now.  Are you going to finally tell me what you’ve been keeping from everyone?  Why is he under the impression that you helped free Marty Saybrook?  I mean, that’s just absurd!”  But even as she ranted to him, she could tell that it was true.  “Oh my God!”
            Todd grabbed her hands.  “Blair.  Blair!”
            “How could you–why? Just tell me why?  Were you helping her to get over your own guilt?” She sat on the bed, unsure of whether she was in shock or just plain angry. Perhaps a bit of both, but that wasn’t all it was.  This came completely out of left field.  “That was it, wasn’t it?  You felt guilty!”
            “Of course I did!” he shot back.  “I still do, and that’s never going to change.  You need to calm down!”
            “Oh yeah?” she cried.  “You make me calm down.  You go to prison for this, and see if I’ll calm down then!”
            “I’m not going to prison,” he said, his tone soft but firm.  He took her into his arms, and just held her for awhile.  He ran his fingers through her hair, shushing her gently the whole time.  She lifted her face to his, and he kissed her, tentatively at first, then a little bit more passionately.  She moaned, calm now but also longing for more of his touch.  They eventually found their way to the bed, after her sweater had somehow come off and she’d unbuttoned his shirt.  In a way, she knew that making love would not fix anything.  And she knew he was probably more aware of that than she cared to admit.  It wasn’t what they needed to stay with the rest of the world; it was what they needed to make the rest of the world go away.

*~*~*

            The next day was the morning of Christmas Eve.  Todd barely had time to dress before Bo Buchanan came to the door, with John McBain at his side. 
            “We found Marty Saybrook last night, and took her into custody,” Bo announced.  “She admitted that you assisted her escape from St. Ann’s by suggesting that she disguise herself as you.  John, read him his rights.”
            As McBain recited the Miranda to him and set him in cuffs, Todd had a chance to see the reactions of his wife and kids.  He saw their devastation, especially Blair’s and Starr’s, and a voice inside his head chastised, Nice going, Manning. Was it worth it?
            It was, he thought, mentally commanding the other voice to shut up. 
            To the cops, all Todd said was, “You’re making a huge mistake.” They didn’t listen to him.  Then again, they never did.

*~*~*
            “I want my phone call,” Todd insisted as John escorted him to his cell.  Unlocking it, John realized that in between stonewalling questions and making cryptic comments, Todd had not once denied or confirmed his guilt.
He said, “You’ll have plenty of time to call your lawyer before your arraignment.” As   Todd sat down on the bed in the corner of the cell, John could no longer keep his cool.  After all, he’d given the guy plenty of chances, hadn’t he?  He’d even put off showing Bo those tapes.  And for what?  Since when did John owe Todd any leniency?  “Dammit, Manning.  Did you do this for Marty because you owed her after raping her? Is that why?”
“No,” said Todd.  He took a deep breath and announced, “I did not help Marty Saybrook escape.”
“Oh really? Marty seems to think differently.”
“John, she is psychotic! Questioning her about it must’ve confused her or something. Trust me, I did not do what you’re accusing me of doing. Now give me my damn phone call.”
“You’ve just been processed,” said John, turning to go back upstairs. “It’ll take about an hour.”
Todd said loudly, “I have an alibi!”
            John kept on walking.  Why do I even bother? he asked himself on his way to his office.  Manning was a criminal, after all.  Yet despite that knowledge, John felt a conflict surge within him.  Was it really worth taking him away from his entire family?  From his wife, and kids, and sisters, nieces…
            When he went into his office, someone was already inside.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.
            Tomas Delgado turned to him and said, “I heard you have arrested Todd Manning for getting Marty Saybrook out of St.Ann’s.”
            “We have,” John replied curtly.  “What’s it to you?”
            Delgado smiled.  “Well, I just came in to tell you that your accusation isn’t possible.  Because I was there with Todd at St. Ann’s, visiting my sister.  He played no part in Marty’s escape.”

*~*~*

It must have been the crack of dawn when John McBain opened Todd’s jail cell.  “Merry Christmas, Manning,” he said gruffly.  “Your alibi buddy came through.”
“And Marty’s confession?” Todd said, knowing there had to be a catch.  He was always suspicious whenever things worked out a little too perfectly. 
“She recanted.  Apparently she was…confused.”
“But you don’t believe her.”
“No.  But we found Marty, and that’s what our primary concern was.  Seeing how the remaining evidence against you is circumstantial, we’re not going to pursue it any further.” 
Todd smirked.  “‘We’re’ not?” 
John corrected himself.  “I’m not. But off the record, I did finally figure this whole thing out.”  Todd fixed a wary look on him, but did not reply.  McBain continued, “I couldn’t figure out your motive for setting Marty free.  I thought at first it was because you felt you owed her a debt of some kind after the rape.”
“Maybe it was–.”
            McBain talked over him.  “Then I realized that this wasn’t about Marty at all.  As soon as Tomas Delgado declared himself as your alibi, I saw the connection.”
            “Which was?” Todd challenged, unsure of whether he should be nervous or relieved that someone else knew what he had been carrying around with him.
“When we found Marty, she had a syringe in her purse.  She wouldn’t say what it was, but I recognized it.  She got it from the CIA compound she’d been hiding in for months before she came back to Llanview.  It was a serum, Manning.  I think she was going to bring it to Delgado, but we intercepted it.”
At that revelation, Todd thought he might be sick.  It was all for nothing, what he’d done, what he’d been through.  “You have to give Delgado the syringe.”
McBain raised his eyebrows, and Todd expected him to ask why.  To press him for more information.  But the cop simply stated, “I already gave it to him.”
Todd stared at him, bewildered.  John explained, “When I discovered that the serum was used for bringing someone out of a catatonic state, it all came together.  Tomas wanted the injection for Tea Delgado.  So…I let him have it.”
“You did?”
“You went through all that trouble for it, so why not?”  For once a bit of amusement crept into John’s voice.
“Bo should give you a raise,” Todd remarked, completely amazed.  You’ve gotta give credit where it’s due.
McBain stepped aside to allow Todd out of the cell.  Hardly able to believe his luck, Todd was strolling past John when the lieutenant said, “There’s one thing I’m still not sure about.”
Todd paused and looked back. 
“How was Delgado able to get both you and Marty to cooperate with him?” But Todd didn’t have to answer, because as soon as John studied his expression, he knew.  “Of course,” John said.  Todd nodded, and continued on his way.

*~*~*

People were finally starting to return to Angel Square.  Standing by the post, Todd just wished things would hurry up, so that there would be no one who noticed the transaction.  It took half an hour for him to spot a figure in a dark wool trenchcoat coming in. 
“You’re late!” Todd called.
“I didn’t have to come at all,” Tomas Delgado pointed out.  “I could have just left you holding the bag.  But I didn’t.  A deal’s a deal.  Besides, I like this place.  It’s full of second chances.”
“Yeah well, don’t think you can get away with a stunt like this again,” Todd warned.
“Of course not.  I’m a man of my word, Todd.  Now, it’s time for me to fulfill my end of the agreement.”
“About damn time,” Todd snapped.  He didn’t mention how he was already planning to retaliate against Tomas for putting him and his family through hell.  After all, revenge was a dish best served cold.

*~*~*

The first words Starr heard on Christmas morning were Jack’s.  “Wow, I got a brand new X-Box!” he shouted from downstairs.  She groaned and threw the covers over her head as her door creaked opened.  “Starr? Sweetie, you’ve got a phone call,” said her mom.
Starr groaned.  She’d given up hoping to hear good news, and she wasn’t about to get hurt like that again.  “Tell whoever it is to call back tomorrow.  Or never.”  A beep one second later indicated that she was on speakerphone.  “Mom, seriously, I don’t want–.”
            “Merry Christmas, Shorty!” her dad’s voice interrupted.  Her eyes widened, and with a gasp she instantly sat up in bed. 
            “Dad?  Are you okay?” she blurted.  The thought of him in prison put a fresh edge on her pain.  But he sounded a bit too upbeat for someone behind bars.
            “I’m great.  Hey, can you do something for me?”
            “What?”
            “Can you meet me in Angel Square in an hour?”
            It took thirty seconds for the words to fully register.  “You–you’ve been released?” Her heart rate must have elevated to the sky just then.
            “Yeah, and I’ve got a present for you,” answered Todd.  “So, can you come?”
            Starr looked at her mother, a daringly broad smile on her face.  “Make it twenty minutes!” she said.
 Against Blair’s wishes, Starr stayed in her pajamas and simply threw on a heavy coat, hat, and boots.  She drove over three roadside snowmen on her way to Angel Square, and when she got out of her car, she nearly forgot to take the keys out of the ignition.  Her excitement, though, was nothing compared to when she saw her dad standing by the tall post.  She froze only for a moment, and then tripped into the snow as she ran.  Eventually he began making his way towards her, and when they finally met, she looked at the child in his arms.
“Momma,” beamed Hope.  Todd passed her over to Starr, who was shaking so bad she was afraid she’d drop her daughter into the snow.  Yet she didn’t.  And as she sobbed and laughed, she realized that she should have known all along this would happen.  Because while things tended to be lost in Angel Square, that was also where they tended to be found.

THE END


This selection was posted for author, RLEE.  Her work can also be read at Cataz's Site