For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com. If you have suggestions or corrections, please don’t bother. My publisher’s editors will deal with that.
Julie stepped out of the shower, intentionally turning her back toward the mirror as she quickly dried herself then tugged on her clothing- flannel pants and a sweatshirt, sized too large to define any sort of form beneath. That was one of the great things about having a brother- everything he owned was large. For the briefest of moments it made her smile, thinking back to when they’d been children. They’d come in from a long afternoon in the snow, and were tired and cold. Matt had gone downstairs to the dryer, grabbing his own sweats and sweatshirt from the newly dried warmth, only to have a little blonde blur steal them from his hands. He’d chased her upstairs, nearly running headlong into the slammed bathroom door. For years after that, whenever his clothes had come up missing, he’d go look through Julie’s drawers, always finding them.
Julie ran a comb through her hair, shaggy and in her face. She hadn’t decided if she wanted to get it cut or just let it grow. Part of her wanted to cut it all off in retaliation. She shook that childish thought away and opened the bathroom door, nearly tripping over her nephew, who had camped out on the floor, back against the wall, socked feet against the opposite wall. She couldn’t believe how much he’d grown even in the three months she’d been gone.
“Well, excuse me, little man,” she said, stopping herself with a hand on either side of the open bathroom door. “I don’t think you were put on this earth to be a roadblock.”
Skylar looked up at his aunt with big, almost sad, eyes. “Remember when I was little and you used to call me speed bump?” he asked, almost as though he were trying to make sure that the woman before him was really his beloved aunt and mother-figure.
Julie sensed something was up, so knelt down beside the boy, running gentle fingers through his morning-disheveled hair. “You are my little speed bump,” she said softly, smiling at him. “Always.”
Skylar felt his chest expand, and became overwhelmed with a surge of love. He threw himself into her arms, nearly knocking her backwards back into the bathroom. “I love you, Aunt Julie,” he whispered, missing the tears in his aunt’s eyes.
“I love you, too, Skylar.” After a moment she pulled away, brushing a thumb over freckled cheeks, wiping away his tears. “Don’t ever forget that, okay?” At Skylar’s nod, she turned him around and sent him scampering back to his bedroom to make his bed with a playful swat to the Spider-Man pjs-clad butt.
Julie padded down the stairs, the smell of bacon frying and coffee brewing met her nose. She stopped mid-step, hand on the banister and closed her eyes, inhaling the fragrance that brought a million and one memories back- from her childhood, and her life before… well, before. She walked through the entryway of the house toward the kitchen where Matt was standing in front of the stove, the radio turned to a country station on the corner of the counter. He was oblivious to the amused eyes watching him as he swung his hips, singing along with Brad Paisley.
The jingling tags of Bonnie chasing Clyde as they nearly slid around the corner into the room, finally alerted him that he wasn’t alone. Matt turned, immediately turning an adorable shade of pink when he saw Julie leaning against the butcher block island, doing her damndest to not start laughing.
“Mornin’,” he murmured, turning back to the bacon, flipping over the sizzling strips. He shook off the embarrassment easily, remembering last night instead. Turning back to his sister, he set the spatula down on a folded paper towel, and walked over to her. He reached to gather Julie in a hug, but saw her flinch. Dropping his arms, he smiled. Don’t take anything she says or does personally… It’s not about you, it’s about her. “How are you today?”
Julie nodded, hugging herself tightly. She worried she had hurt her brother, not intending for him to see her incredible discomfort at his touch, but she couldn’t bring herself to apologize. “Alright, I guess.” She gave him a weak smile, nodding toward the stove. “Smells good.”
“Thanks!” Matt said, eager to get onto a safe subject. “I figured, throw some toast in the toaster, plenty of butter, just like you like it, then some eggs-“
“No eggs,” Julie said, her eyes immediately filling with fear, the sting of emotion making her blink several times.
Matt was stunned, utterly confused. “Alright,” he said slowly. “No eggs. I thought you loved eggs? I was gonna fry them, just how you-“
“No eggs, Matt.”
“Okay. Um,” he turned back to the carton on the counter, wondering what he’d make for the main course of their breakfast.
Julie felt her heart pound, but then she felt guilty. She could see the confusion on her brother’s face, and knew he was just trying to do a good thing for her. “How about I whip up some pancakes?” she suggested, her enthusiasm very forced.
“You don’t have to, Jules. I can do that.”
“No.” She smiled at him, this time almost genuine. “You keep watch over the bacon and potatoes, as I see you’ve got them all cubed up and spiced over there. I’ll make pancakes.”
The three of them sat at the kitchen table, Skylar digging into the pancakes like he’d never eaten them before, pouring on more maple syrup with every bite. Julie grimaced in disgust, feeling her mouth fill with cavities as she watched. She listened as Matt and Skylar spoke to each other, Skylar filling them in on his new friend at school, or his teacher this year. Their conversation and camaraderie was nice, familiar, but somehow Julie felt like she was watching an episode of television. She couldn’t shake the feeling of disjointedness, like she didn’t belong there, didn’t have anything to add.
Remmy felt glorious. Well, that may be too strong of a word, but better for sure. She had been bathed, though an old bitty of a nurse had helped her. She mused it would have been a much nicer experience if even Cameron’s sister had assisted her. She was dressed in a fresh gown with fresh dressings on her injuries and surgical incisions, and was being wheeled back to her room.
With a full stomach and clean body, Remmy allowed herself to be settled on the bed, sitting, her back against a cloud of padding behind her. She was ready for her visitor. She told the nurse as much, and he went to get her.
Left alone, Remmy was left alone with her thoughts. The nightmare that had woken her, which she still could not remember, left her troubled and feeling mildly frightened. What made it worse was she was mildly frightened by something she had no knowledge of. She recalled her conversation with Grace, whom had called her last night to make sure all was well, and remembered how the detective had looked at her, almost startled and concerned that Remmy didn’t remember the women she had named: Pamela and Julie. Neither name rang a bell, though she felt as though it should. The names and any link to them, were sucked into the void that was the emptiness in her mind. Her troubled thoughts were interrupted by the opening of her hospital room door.
A woman peeked her head in, long, dark hair pulled back in a French braid. Her eyes were nearly as dark as her hair. Seeing Remmy propped up on the bed, she pushed the door in fully, stepping inside and letting the door slowly slide closed behind her.
Remmy studied her, dark brows drawn, but slowly they rose as her mouth fell open. Standing before her was a ghost of her lost, and misspent youth. She tried to raise herself, but stopped, pain shooting through her body.
“Stay put. Don’t hurt yourself,” her visitor said, walking over to the bed, staring down at Remmy with dark eyes, still so filled with mischief.” Without another word, the two cousins embraced, Monica holding Remmy’s head against her chest, feeling strong arms encircle her waist. They said nothing, just as they never used to have to say anything.
Finally Remmy’s curiosity and shock go the best of her. She pulled back, looking into the face of her beloved Monica as the woman sat in the chair next to the bed. She refused to relinquish physical touch, and kept the older girl’s hand in her own. “Where did you come from? Where did you go? Jesus, I thought you were dead.”
Monica smiled, soft wisps of dark hair framing her pretty face. “I nearly was. Picked myself out of a gutter one day, the money I’d made the night before stolen, and decided I was going to die. Just up ahead I saw a small church, and staggered inside.” She squeezed Remmy’s hands. “I’ve been looking for you for years, Rem. I had no idea where you’d gone.”
Remmy smiled, trying to hold off her emotion. Hot damn! I’ve got family again. “I’ve been everywhere. Nowhere. Ended up here.” Her brows drew. “How did you know I was here?”
“Saw it on the news. You’re quite the hero. It’s everywhere, how you led the police to those women.” Monica smiled, pride glowing in her dark eyes. “I guess you found an outlet for your visions, huh?”
Remmy studied her cousin, slowly shaking her head. Her voice was a whisper. “I don’t remember, Mon. People keep telling me that, but I have no clue what they’re talking about. I’m a little scared.”
Monica studied their conjoined hands for a moment before she met troubled blue eyes. She’d always wished she’d gotten Remmy’s eyes from their grandfather, too. “Rem, I came here with the intention of taking you back home with me. You’re so important to me, and we’re all the other has as far as family goes. I’ve got a small house in Omaha. I don’t want to lose you again.”
Remmy heard the words, and they made her so happy, but then something kicked in, and her brows drew. Something… something missing. She thought back over her life in Woodland, though brief it was, and tried to figure out what it was that was telling her to stay. She thought about her small apartment, which was nice, but certainly expendable. She thought about her job, which too was nice, but she’d had a million of those. Yes, she’d made friends, but nothing that could compare to her cousin, to her family, to her best friend.
Monica studied Remmy’s face intently, hoping that she’d say yes. She gave an answering smile to the blinding one she received. At Remmy’s nod, Monica grinned, hugging the younger woman to her once again.
Grace was taking notes on her research for her newest case, a hit and run that had left a 10 year old girl dead in the gutter. She pushed her reading glasses up further on her nose when she was interrupted by a tap on her shoulder. She glanced up and smiled at the surprise of seeing Joan Watson standing there. Joan fell into the chair next to Grace’s desk.
“Hi. Sorry to interrupt you at work, but an officer showed me where you were.”
“No problem, Joan. How is it going?” Grace removed her glasses, setting them aside as she leaned back in her office chair.
“Oh, fine. I’m a little bummed, though,” she said, digging into her purse and producing a small, folded piece of paper. She set it on the edge of Grace’s desk. “I’ve lost my favorite employee. And tenant.”
Grace took the paper and unfolded it. It was the check for six hundred dollars she’d given Joan more than a week ago. She raised questioning eyes to Joan.
“She’s gone, Grace. I went to see her this morning, knowing she was due to be released. I had planned to take her home. The room was empty, bed freshly made. The nurse said she was released this morning, and left with her cousin.”
“Cousin?” Grace hadn’t been aware Remmy had any family. Knowing that was irrelevant right now, she released a heavy sigh. “Oh. And she left the area?”
“I guess. The cousin was from the mid-west somewhere, the nurse said. I guess she’d been here for the past few days.” She shook her head sadly. “I wish… I didn’t now. I guess I wish things could’ve been different. She would have stayed, resumed the life she’d made here. She had a job, place to live, friends.”
Grace smiled. “But consider her life here, Joan,” she said softly. “She was tortured with visions of Sergio Venti, and forced to live the horrors that Julie, Pam, Roxie and Cameron did.” Grace sipped from her coffee. “To be honest, Joan, I just hope she can find some peace.”
Joan sighed, knowing Grace was right. “I feel we all let her down, somehow,” she said, her voice soft. “Maybe we should’ve been there for her more.” She laughed nervously. “Hell, I’m pawning off my own guilt. Maybe I should’ve been there more for her.”
Grace patted Joan’s knee. “Don’t beat yourself up, Joan. Remmy is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. She’ll be okay.”
Julie walked around the room, looking at everything, fingers glazing over her things. The house smelled slightly stuffy. She knew Matt had come over when he could, airing things out, but he has his own home, and son, to take care of. Distantly she heard Bonnie and Clyde running through the house, happy to finally be home, too. She walked into every room, forever grateful that the abduction hadn’t happened there. She knew there was no way she could step foot back inside if it had. The mere thought of heading back to the school made her stomach churn.
She had been seeing Dr. Corregan every day for the past three and a half weeks, and the good doctor felt it was time for Julie to start expanding in her life, edging outside of Matt’s house. Matt had to go back to work at the beginning of the previous week, which terrified her, as she had to start getting herself back and forth to see Dr. Corregan, but at the same time, it had filled her with a sense of accomplishment. She’d even offered to take care of Skylar off and on over the past week. Earlier in the day, Julie had asked to use the car to head over to her own house.
She walked over to the French doors that when opened, led into the backyard, which she’d spent so much time in over the summer, planting flowers and a small garden. The yard wasn’t huge, but it was large enough for her and her dogs, and she’d had a barbecue or two on the small, cement patio.
Taking a deep breath, Julie reached up and took the two ends of the heavy curtains in her fists, and then pulled the two ends apart. She half expected seeing that bastard standing on the other side, but he wasn’t there. She’s spoken her fears to Haley, that part of her couldn’t quite reconcile with the fact that Sergio was dead. Her therapist had suggested maybe she should visit his grave, prove to herself that he was, in fact, dead and could never hurt her again. She was considering it, but wasn’t ready. Not yet.
She unlocked the doors and stepped through, bringing her winter jacket further around herself. Her legs immediately felt tight and stiff in her jeans as the frigid November air swarmed around them. Thanksgiving was the following day, and part of her dreaded it. She wasn’t looking forward to all the people. With Matt and Skylar her only family, and vice/versa for them, they always had Thanksgiving dinner with friends, one year at Matt’s house, the next at hers. Matt had offered to have a small affair with just the three of them, but knew how much Matt and Skylar enjoyed the festivities, so insisted they keep with tradition. Besides, she felt that was important for her to do, as well. She couldn’t hide forever.
She walked over to her patio furniture, grateful that Matt had covered it in plastic for her. Brushing off the newly fallen snow, she felt a small smile tug at the corner of her mouth, thinking that next summer maybe she’d be ready for another barbecue.
Heading back inside, Julie made her way through all the rooms, feeling her smile increase with every one. She wanted to try spending time there, just her and her dogs, and maybe Skylar sometimes, too.
The nightmarish images had continued, just as Dr. Corregan said they would. After the first night, Matt had given her the option to stay with him, him with her, or Skylar. Julie had tried a second night on her own, but her nocturnal world had been rocked with even more garish images and fear. The next night she had curled up with her nephew, who’s warmth and youthful innocence had provided her with quiet strength.
She had felt strange since her return, not only drained emotionally and physically- able to put on a few pounds since- but also felt something was… missing. She couldn’t quite put a finger to it, but felt it. She hadn’t wanted to think much about it, or put too much into it, as it forced herself to go back there, back to Hell. She wasn’t sure she was ready.
Julie felt a bit of sadness wash over her as she called her dogs to her, getting ready to head back to Matt’s. She felt sad because she felt she’d left a part of herself back at that house, that Sergio had taken something from her that she could never get back from him. She felt the sadness turning into a burning anger, bright enough that her hands curled into a fist at her sides.
“You won’t win, you son of a bitch,” she muttered, then left the house.
Remmy sipped from her coffee. Her cousin made the best around. She stood at the sliding glass door looking out at the white wonderland, ignoring the sounds of laughter and conversation behind her. She supposed she had a lot to be thankful for, but just wasn’t in the mood to share. Instead, she stayed inside her own head, the taste of wonderful food still on her tongue. She’d been with Monica in her Omaha home for nearly a month, and was loving the familiarity that came with reuniting with her best friend. Monica was becoming her hero, the way she’d managed to pick herself up out of the gutter-literally- and had a very productive life and beautiful home.
If she had been asked five years ago where Monica would end up, or what her home would look like, never would the small, homey country-style house ever have come to mind. In some ways, it wasn’t Monica at all, but in others, it made Remmy feel more at home than she’d felt in a long, long time. She and her cousin’s closeness had picked up right where it left off, without the drugs, this time. Hell, in their own ways, they’d both become respectable.
Remmy turned to find her cousin standing just behind her, a plate in either hand, both with a generous piece of whipped cream-topped pumpkin pie. “Oh, for me?” Remmy grinned.
“Yes it is. You always loved it.” Monica handed the plate to the younger woman, snagging a plastic fork from her back pocket, and one for herself. “I remember you once told me that you could live off the stuff. That and pizza.”
Remmy chuckled. “Good thing I don’t- I’d die of clogged arteries by 30.”
“That you would.” The cousins ate in silence, both watching the snow fall. Monica studied her cousin’s profile, sensing the trouble that was brewing in Remmy’s heart. “Something’s wrong,” she said after awhile. Remmy said nothing for long moments, then turned to Monica.
Remmy knew she couldn’t lie to Monica, who she knew damn well could read her like a book. She thought it was actually pretty ironic that it took Monica’s vocalized observation to make the problem click into place. “I feel lost, Monica,” she said, her voice quiet.
“What do you mean?” Monica set her plate down on a kitchen counter, indicating with a nod of her head that Remmy should follow. One leaning against the sink, the other the fridge, Monica waited for her cousin to expound on her statement.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.” Remmy sighed, running her hands through her hair. “I don’t know. It’s like, for the past few weeks, since I got shot, I just feel like something is wrong. Something is… missing.”
“What is it?”
“Mon, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be confused.” They both chuckled at the absurdity of Monica’s question. “It’s just there. I want to cry. It’s almost like I’ve lost something that I need, and don’t know what it is. I feel like if I found that one thing,” she held up a finger to emphasize her point, “life would be great.”
“What do you want to do? Maybe you should talk to someone, Rem. I know my minister would be more than willing.”
Remmy smiled, reaching across the small space and squeezing her cousin’s arm. “Thanks. I think I need to get through this on my own. I’ll figure it out.” She shrugged, grabbing up her plate of pie again. “Who knows? Maybe I’m just missing my spleen.”
Julie lay in her bed, Bonnie and Clyde snuggled up on either side of her. She stared up at the ceiling, studying the shadows the moon painted across it. The day had been a success, for the most part. The usual suspects had arrived to help celebrate Thanksgiving, many brining food to add to the feast Matt and Julie had made. Julie had seen many of them since she’d returned, but others had kept their distance, offering her space to recover. Though grateful for that, she had to admit she’d been happy to see so many familiar faces.
No one really commented on the fact that Julie kept to herself a great deal, or she would stick with the children, their youth and laughter a balm to her badly damaged soul. All throughout the day she kept turning around, expecting to see someone who she felt should’ve been with her, someone she couldn’t put a face or finger to, but who should be there. It was a strange feeling.
It felt good to be warm, fully clothed, and with a full tummy. She was a fortunate woman. She had been thinking a lot about Pamela Beecham, and there was a part of her that wanted to speak with her, as Pam was truly the only person who could understand what she was feeling. She wondered how the older woman was doing, how was she handling all this. Cameron had only been in the pit for a very short time, lucky for her. She was young, and Julie had no doubt she’d bounce back. She just hoped that she, herself would. She was tired of not feeling herself, and wondered if she ever would again. Yes, she knew she was forever changed, but would the core of who she truly was begin to seep back into her daily life?
There were things about the new Julie that the blonde did not like. Her patience, for instance, was at an all time low. She’d snapped at Skylar a few times over things that she never would have in the past. She’d apologized to the startled boy later, once facing him with tears in his eyes, which broke her heart. Maybe she needed to move back into her own place- by herself she couldn’t hurt anyone else.
Julie’s thoughts were cut short by a soft knock on her closed bedroom door. “Come in,” she called, not wanting to disturb the dogs by getting up to open it. The door squeaked softly open- she refused to allow Matt to oil it so she could always hear if someone entered- and Matt popped his head in.
“Hey,” he said softly. “You sleeping?”
Julie shook her head. “No. Come on in.”
Matt entered, closing the door softly behind him so their voices wouldn’t wake up Skylar. He nodded toward the end of the bed, making sure he could sit without making Julie jumpy. At her nod, he sat. “It was fun today,” he said, a lopsided grin on his face. “Even when my boss accidentally dropped his teeth into the mashed potatoes.”
They both had a good laugh at that, Bonnie glared up at her Mommy for interrupting her sleep. “Yes, that was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a very long time.”
Matt sobered slowly. “How did you feel today? Other than being quiet, you seemed like you were okay.”
“Yeah. It was alright. It was really good to see some of those people again. I was really glad Grace stopped by, too. She seems like a really nice woman.”
“Damn good detective, too,” Matt said. “She was so dogged, Jules. She just wouldn’t quit. Great gal.” Matt was silent for a moment, then, “Julie, will you ever tell me what happened to you? I mean, I’m not pushing you. I want you to feel comfortable. But, will you?”
Julie nearly melted by the little boy who sat at the end of her bed. She smiled, pulling an arm out from her cocoon and reaching for his. He grasped it, holding her hand tightly in his. “I will. Someday. To be honest with you, Matty, I don’t want to upset you when I do. It will.”
Matt nodded. “I’m sure. But I want to be able to understand. I mean, like the thing with the eggs- you love eggs.”
“Not anymore.” Julie studied the top of Clyde’s head for a moment, loving the way the thin hairs stood up like he was a little rocker dog. When she spoke again, her voice was very quiet. “When he’d bring us upstairs, he’d always feed us omelets.” She stared past Matt, back into a memory that was forever burned into her brain. “Cheese and ham.”
Matt wallowed down his own emotions at seeing the deadness in Julie’s normally vibrant green eyes. “How often?”
Julie shook her head, the fear and anger swelling inside her. She shook her head. “I can’t, I’m sorry. I don’t want to talk.”
Matt hid his disappointment. He wanted to understand, but knew better than to push. He squeezed his sister’s hand then let it go. “Okay. Get some rest.”
Julie watched him get up and head for the door, his hand on the doorknob. “Matt?” He turned to look at her. “Happy Thanksgiving. I have a lot to be thankful for.”
Matt smiled. “Me, too. Goodnight, Jules.”
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