The Message Chapters 16, 17, 18
The car had barely come to a stop when Courtney bolted from the backseat and ran for the front door of her home. Sam and Matt followed close behind and couldn't help but smile as they heard the girl yell as she entered the house.
“Mom, Brandon?” Courtney called the moment she was inside the foyer. “Where are you? I'm home.”
At the sound of her daughter's voice, Jennifer sprang from her seat and ran to the door of the family room. Her sock feet slid on the hardwood floors as she hurried along the hall to reach her daughter.
“Courtney! Baby! Oh my God, it's you. Oh baby!” she cried as she pulled her daughter close into her arms. Two blond heads to much alike nestled side by side. Jennifer swayed her daughter in her arms. Tears of joy and relief streamed down both faces. Suddenly they were engulfed in a set of smaller arms as Brandon wrapped his arms around them both.
Casey stood and watched with Janie and Alex. Sam and Matt paused as they came in the door. All of them frozen in place. Reluctant to interrupt the happy reunion.
After she had held her daughter several long moments, Jennifer pulled away. She took Courtney's face in her hands and just looked at her. She worked her hands down her daughter's arms as if checking to be sure everything was okay and in place. “Are you okay, Courtney? Did they hurt you? Please tell me, baby.” The matching green eyes locked and Courtney pulled her mother back into a hug. “I'm fine, Mom. They didn't hurt me. It's so good to be home.”
Jennifer kept her daughter and son close to her side as they moved back to the family room and curled up on the sofa together. Reluctant to let her daughter out of her sight, she held her close throughout the day and into the evening. She was so happy to have Courtney home that she didn't pay much attention to the activity around her. She knew there would be time later to ask questions. For the moment she wanted to enjoy having her daughter home.
Jennifer sat by Courtney's bedside that night long after she had fallen asleep. She couldn't seem to make herself let Courtney out of her sight. She even stayed close by while Courtney showered and dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of sleep pants. She couldn't remember a time in her life when she had been more frightened or unsure of things than she had been the last few days. And for now she needed to watch over her daughter. She still didn't have many of the details about her daughter's rescue or for that matter who took her. For days she had tormented herself with the thought that Tessa was somehow involved. But Casey had assured her again and again that the investment banker had been admitted into a mental health facility at the insistence of her employers. Although she hadn't really wanted to Casey finally admitted to Jennifer that the unstable woman had targeted her and had been watching her for weeks before their accidental meeting at the Third Street Bar. Officers found hundreds of photographs of Jennifer in various situations. Some of them included her children. There had even been photos of her with Michael and even Janie and Alex. The idea that someone had so thoroughly invaded her privacy repulsed her in a way that she had never experienced before. She felt violated. Soiled.
Casey, Janie and Alex had been her anchor through it all. She had no idea what she would have done without the three women, especially Casey. Every time she felt like she would fall apart, Casey was there holding her together. Offering a word of encouragement or a needed hug. She was amazed by the solace she found in the other woman's arms. It was as if she had known her forever and not just a couple weeks. But then she had felt a bond with Casey from the very first time they spoke on the phone. That bond led to a trust that she hadn't experienced with anyone in a very long time. Jennifer watched her daughter as she slept and couldn't help but be thankful for the men and women who had brought her home safely. Casey had encouraged her day after day to remain hopeful. Assured her that they would find her baby and bring her home. And they kept that promise. Oh, Casey, what would I have done without you?
Finally giving in to fatigue, she moved from her chair to lie beside of Courtney. She was careful not to disturb her sleeping daughter as she snuggled up to her back. She wrapped her arm protectively around her daughter and was soon fast asleep. Two blond heads close together. Similar faces relaxed in sleep.
Casey was stopped in her tracks by the sight before her when she went to check on Jennifer and her daughter some time later. She was certain she had never seen anything more beautiful or sweeter in her life than the two of them snuggled close as they slept. Courtney was so much her mother's daughter. Casey had already admitted to herself that she had never seen anyone more lovely than Jennifer. And she wanted an opportunity to get to know her. Perhaps even pursue a relationship. But she knew that the events of the last few days once revealed were bound to destroy that possibility. I have got to find a way to tell her. She needs to hear it from me. With a deep sigh and heavy heart she backed out the door and back down the hall.
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