Author’s Note: Thank you to all of you who have been encouraging me to continue and finish Casey and Jennifer's story. I hope you forgive me for taking so long to post. It was just about a year ago when I posted the first chapter on the Academy site. Since that time I have met several wonderful people through The Message and established friendships that I hope last the rest of my life. Who would have thought this story would have had such a wonderful benefit? I hope you enjoy these pages which will be followed soon by the conclusion. Please let me know what you think. To each of you ... Happy New Year!
By J.A. Breeze
Sam followed at distance as Michael Gibson left the family's home. He was certain that something just wasn't right about the whole situation and his gut told him that this wasn't going to end well. He expected the man to drive into the city and was surprised when instead he turned north away from Wilmington. They followed a two-lane highway for nearly an hour before the man turned into a residential area. He slowed and lagged even farther behind when he saw his quarry turning into a driveway. He watched as Michael got out of this car and walked to the door of the house. It was a simple ranch structure. Nothing showy about the place. Sam couldn't help but wonder what could have brought the man so far out of town when his daughter was missing. Then an odd thing happened a man met Michael at the door and gestured back toward his car. After what appeared to be a brief argument, Michael returned to his car and got in but he didn't leave. The garage door opened and he pulled his car forward into the vacant spot right beside a dark colored van.
“Well, hell fire and damnation. This is just perfect,” the veteran detective grumbled as he made the connection between the van and Courtney Gibson's abduction. “I'd be willing to bet that van is the one we've been looking for all over this god forsaken state.” Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed the assistant DA's number. “Casey, honey, you're not gonna like this one at all,” he mumbled as he waited for her to answer her phone.
Jennifer had just gotten Brandon settled in his room and was coming down the stairs when she heard voices in the foyer. She was sure one belonged to her friend Janie and she didn't sound very happy about something. What she found when she reached the foyer would have been amusing on another day. Janie was standing with her hands on her hips and her chin jutted out while Casey had taken a stance in front of her with her arms crossed and a “don't get in my way” expression on her face. When Janie saw her friend come into view, she started to move forward but her adversary took a step at the same time effectively blocking her path.
“Jennifer, honey, I just heard about Courtney. I'm so sorry.”
To Casey's surprise, Jennifer made a beeline to the woman and threw herself into the open arms. She watched as the taller woman's arms closed around Jennifer in a comforting embrace. She could hear the red-haired woman speaking softly to Jennifer as she sobbed in her arms. The brunette who accompanied the woman stood right behind them with tears glistening in her eyes.
For several long minutes the pair continued the embrace. It was Jennifer who pulled back first and rubbed her hands over her eyes and face removing the tears as best she could with her hands. Without a word she took her friend by the hand, turned and started down the hall to the family room leaving Casey standing with the other woman.
“Well, um. I guess your friend was right Jennifer did want her here,” she said to the other woman as a heated blush moved along her cheeks to her neck.
“Perhaps, given the situation, it would have been better if my partner had bothered to introduce herself instead of blazing in here demanding to see Jennifer.” she said letting the assistant DA off the hook.
Casey offered a small smile in gratitude to the other woman and moved forward to introduce herself. “Why don't we start this over? Hello, I'm Casey Jarningan from the Wilmington DA's Office.”
“And, I'm Alex and that woman you just butted heads with is my partner Janie who happens to be Jennifer's best friend.”
“Oops. My mistake,” Casey said as she shrugged her shoulders and turned her palms up in a questioning gesture.
“Why don't we go find them and let me introduce you. Janie is going to be very amused when she finds out who you are.”
Casey arched a brow in question but Alex ignored her and turned as if to head down the hall to find the other women.
Casey started to follow but her phone rang. When she saw Sam's number on the caller ID she answered it immediately. “Hey, Sam, give me just a second will you?” Turning to the other woman she excused herself. “I really need to take this call. I'll come find you in a few minutes.”
Once she was alone, Casey placed the phone to her ear. “Okay, Sam. I'm here.”
A couple hours passed while Casey brought first Winston and then the rest of the team up to speed on the new developments. Sam was certain Courtney was being held inside the house where he was keeping watch. Winston and AIC Webster didn't want to move too quickly so they were going to continue to watch. Casey was torn. She wanted to bring comfort to the woman she had come to care so much for in such a short time but she had a job to do as Winston so thoroughly reminded her just minutes before.
When she entered the family room, her lips formed into a tender smile at the sight before her. Alex was sitting on one end of the couch with Janie's head resting on her shoulder. Both were sound asleep and it was a beautiful picture. But it was Jennifer who caused her smile. Jennifer was curled on her side with her head resting on Janie's knee. Her hands were together as if in prayer but they pillowed her cheek.
So beautiful and obviously well loved by your friends. Casey started to leave but suddenly she was looking into a pair of gorgeous green eyes. “Hey. What time is it,” Jennifer questioned in a sleep-filled voice.
Mmm. I could get used to waking up to that voice every morning. Focus Jarnigan. You have a job to do. “It's about three-thirty,” she whispered so as to not disturb the sleeping women.
“Is there any news? Have they found Courtney?”
Casey moved to kneel in front of Jennifer. Every part of her being screamed to tell Jennifer the truth that they believed they had found her daughter's location and would know for certain very soon. But then she heard Winston's voice reminding her that she had a job to do. “No, Jennifer. I'm sorry. There's still no news but hopefully soon.”
She watched as tears filled the smaller woman's eyes and once again her heart broke at the pain she saw there. “You'll let me know if you hear anything won't you Casey?”
“Yes, Jennifer. As soon as we've found Courtney, you'll be the first to know.” Casey almost choked on the words as they left her mouth.
“Thank you Casey. I feel so much better with you here. I trust you.” Jennifer reached up and stroked a finger down the assistant DA's cheek as she spoke. “I trust you.”
Casey felt like someone had slammed her in the stomach. Her head reminded her that she was just doing her job to make sure whoever did this was brought to justice but her heart wasn't convinced. “Try to get some more sleep and I'll check back with you in a little while.” Unable to resist the pull of the smaller woman who was so vulnerable, Casey leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Sleep well.”
As she rose to her feet, Jennifer mumbled as sleep claimed her yet again. It took Casey a moment to understand the words. When they registered, tears filled her eyes.
“My Casey ... so good to me.”
“My Casey. Oh my Lord.” Jennifer had inadvertently opened a part of Casey's heart that had been locked away reminding her yet again of another place and time when she was Tristan's Casey and so well loved.
“Dad? Dad?” Courtney screamed as she woke from yet another fitful sleep. Disoriented it took her a few minutes to clear her head and remember where she was. For some reason she was certain that she heard her father's voice and she lay quietly listening. But she didn't hear anything. The house remained silent.
“Oh, Daddy. I'm so scared. All I want is to go home. Please come get me and take me home.” Tears streamed down her face as Courtney pleaded for her father.
Where he leaned with his ear against the door, Michael Gibson wiped a tear away from his eyes just as the hard cold steal of a gun was shoved into his back and a cold, hard voice whispered in his ear.
“Now are you ready to do as I say?”
Michael couldn't speak and fought the urge to throw up as he nodded his head that yes he was ready. What have I done? I promise you, baby. I'll get you out of this. Daddy will get you home.
Just over an hour later, Michael backed his car out of the garage and started the trip back to Wilmington. His mind was racing as he drove. Trying to come up with a way to get his daughter out of the mess he had created. He was so distracted that he didn't notice the dark sedan that was following close behind. Just as he reached the outskirts of the city, he was surprised to suddenly see flashing blue lights in his rearview mirror. He pulled off the shoulder of the road and waited for the officer to approach. Expecting to be asked for his license and registration he had already taken them from a clip over the sun visor. When the officer tapped on the glass, he lowered the window and looked up into a familiar face.
“Mr. Gibson, will you step out of the car please?” Two men dressed in suits, one of them kind of rumpled, had joined the officer who was reaching for the door handle.
“Is there something wrong, officer?”
“Sir, please just step out of the car and these gentlemen here will explain everything to you.”
As Michael looked from man to man he recognized them as the agents who were trying to find his daughter so he shut off the engine and opened the door to the car. As he stepped onto the roadway, the two agents moved to each side of him and took hold of an arm.
“Mr. Gibson, we need you to come with us. These officers will take care of your car.” Michael attempted to pull away but the words the older man spoke stopped him dead. “Listen, man, we know that you're involved up to your eye balls in your daughter's disappearance. The best thing you can do is come with us.”
Days went by as the agents put their plan into place to not only free Courtney but to capture her abductors. But that had become on a small piece of the puzzle and that knowledge was eating away at Casey as she spent hour after hour with Jennifer. She grew to care more and more for the smaller woman with each passing moment and for the two women who rarely left her side.
Janie and Alex were definitely good people. They practically stayed around the clock distracting Brandon and catering to Jennifer's every need. They went back to their home to sleep each night only to return the first thing the next morning. Some days were better than others. But seeing the story of her daughter's abduction and her involvement with Tessa plastered on page one of The Wilmington Gazette had been especially difficult for Jennifer. It had taken all the strength Casey could muster not to tell Jennifer that Courtney was okay. She couldn't help but admire the quiet confidence the publisher had shown when the editor from the paper came by to discuss the story.
“Do what you have to do and forget this is about me,” were the words she heard Jennifer tell the other woman just before they embraced and the editor left.
“I guess the cat's out of the bag,” Jennifer said to the assistant DA once her editor and friend was gone.
Casey had moved to take the smaller woman into her arms to comfort her but Jennifer gently pushed her away and offered her a wobbly smile. “Not now, Casey. I think if you touch me right now I'll fall apart and may not ever be able to get the pieces back together again. Okay?”
Casey dropped her arms to her side and stepped away. “Yes, Jennifer. I do understand. Better than you'll probably ever know.”
Jennifer saw complete understanding and acceptance in the warm dark eyes and for just a moment she had wanted to feel the comfort of Casey's arms but she fought the temptation and turned to leave the room.
Casey stood staring out the window as she thought about the events that were about to unfold. I'm going to lose you before I get the chance to actually have you. But at least your daughter will be safe and you will be safe. Please forgive, Jennifer. Forgive me.
Casey had stayed at the Gibson home around the clock watching over Jennifer and her son only leaving for brief periods of time to meet with Winston and the agents leading the investigation. It was almost time. Everything was in place to bring not only the abductors but the conspirators to justice. It shouldn't be more than a couple days now and Casey knew her time with Jennifer was limited.
She and Jennifer had gotten to know each other quite well over the last few days exchanging stories from their childhood and college years. Finding that they had much in common. The one topic they had not discussed was Tristan and Casey found herself wanting to tell Jennifer about her. But the time never seemed quite right.
They were alone yet again. Brandon was across the street at a friend's house and Jennifer was more agitated than she had been in a few days and on edge. Casey couldn't take the pacing any longer and had made a cup of hot tea to try to calm the other woman. They sat now sipping their tea. Neither was saying anything. Each lost in her own thoughts. Casey was pulled from her revelry when Jennifer asked a quiet question.
“Casey what did you mean the other day?”
“Hm? I'm not sure I know what you're talking about.”
“You know when you said you understood about shattering into pieces.”
“Oh? Okay. A ... a ... Jennifer I'm not sure now is the time to tell you that story,” she stammered. Amazing I was just thinking about telling her about that time in my life and she brings it up.
“Well ... okay ... but I'd really like to know if you want to talk about it. You know so much about my life and I still don't know hardly anything about you.”
Casey saw nothing but sincerity when she looked into Jennifer's eyes. “It's kind of a long story and I should warn you that it doesn't have a happy ending.”
“Please Casey. Tell me.”
A couple minutes passed in silence and Jennifer was just about to let the other woman off the hook when she began to speak.
“You remember I told you I went to MTSU on a basketball scholarship?”
“Well the story begins there. That's where I met Tristan. When I saw her I forgot to breathe she was so lovely. While I was still in high school I knew that I was attracted to girls not boys but being from a small community on the Cumberland Plateau it was unheard of so I buried who I was for a long time. Until I met Tristan and fell in love for the very first time. She was lively and funny, not to mention beautiful. Blond. Blue eyes. Just a few inches shorter than me. She was a swimmer and in excellent physical condition. I never thought she'd give me the time of day and I followed her around that first year like a lovesick puppy.”
“So when did you let her know that you were attracted to her?”
“I didn't. I was too much of a chicken so she let me know.” Casey couldn't help but laugh at the memory.
“She did huh? Sounds like someone I would like.”
“Tristan was amazing. The first semester was just about to end and we would be going home for the holidays. She asked me to come to her dorm room to exchange gifts before we left for the break. When I got there the room was set for seduction but I was too dumb to know it. There were candles burning. Soft music playing. She told me later that she had gotten tired of waiting for me to make the first move and decided to take control.”
“Hm? So you and Tristan--?”
“Yes. We made love for the first time that night and were never really apart all through college. She even went with me when I decided to go to Memphis to law school. And then moved here with me. We shared the condo where I live now.”
“So ... she is the only woman you've ever --”
“Yes, Jennifer. Tristan is the only woman I've ever loved and been with.” Casey was blushing at the admission but she was determined to finish the story.
“What happened to her, Casey?”
“The doctors said it was a brain aneurysm. She had been having headaches and they were growing more and more frequent and painful. I encouraged her to go to the doctor and she kept promising she would but she was driving home from work one afternoon and never made it. Her car crashed into a tree. She died at the scene.”
Casey's voice had dropped so low that Jennifer struggled to understand her but she did make out every word. “Oh, my God, Casey. I am so sorry. She was so young.”
Casey didn't speak for several minutes and Jennifer gave her the time she needed. But she couldn't help but think about how wonderful it would be to have someone love her that much. She knew without a doubt that she had never been loved nearly as much as Casey loved Tristan. It was written plainly in her expression ... in her words.
“That was just about three years ago and my life hasn't been quite the same since.”
“Casey, I really am so sorry. Sorry that you lost someone you obviously loved so much.”
“The toughest part is that I didn't get to tell her goodbye. I wasn't with her and I wonder if she knew and if she was afraid.”
“Oh, Casey,” Jennifer went to the other woman and took her hands into her own. “I'm certain that Tristan never felt alone knowing that you loved her.”
“I kissed her bye in her sleep that morning and drove to my parent's. I was building a cabin, a retreat of sorts and spent most of my days off there working. Had I know that would be the last time I would see her, I would have lingered longer. Made love with her. Held her one last time.”
Jennifer's eyes filled with tears at the longing she heard in the other woman's voice and surprisingly it didn't cause jealousy at all but a deep desire to have someone to love so completely.
“Jennifer there's something I want you to know.” Casey said as she looked into the caring blue eyes of this woman she had grown to care for so much. “I never thought I'd love again after Tristan. I felt her everywhere and missed her terribly, but lately I've felt like she was letting go of me, telling me to go on with my life. To be happy. For the first time since I lost her, I feel like I have something to offer someone else. That I have more love to give.” As she spoke Casey looked deep into Jennifer's eyes saying much more with her gaze than she did with words.
Jennifer gasped at the look Casey was giving her. The other woman was holding nothing back and offering everything Jennifer had dreamed of and thought she'd never have. “Oh, Casey. You are such a sweet, sweet woman.” Jennifer said as she leaned in and kissed Casey over each eye, then on each cheek and finally the briefest but sweetest of kisses on the lips. “I've ever trusted anyone in my life and from the very beginning I've known that you were someone I could count on. A good, kind, caring and honest woman.”
Each word Jennifer spoke cut a little nick in Casey's heart. She was certain that once Jennifer knew the truth that things were bound to change. Please don't hate me. Casey pulled the smaller woman into her arms and claimed her mouth in a thorough breathtaking kiss. Knowing that she may not ever hold the smaller woman in her arms again, Casey poured everything she had into that one kiss. She wasn't the least bit surprised to find that her eyes were filled with tears.
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