Gerald's green eyes widened when his sister slammed the breaks just in time to avoid running into a pedestrian. In reaction he extended his right leg like he was driving the car himself. Lucy just chuckled.
" Gee, Luce, do you have to do that? Where did you learn how to drive? You are going to kill me like this."
" Don't worry little brother, " Lucy grinned, patting him on the knee. " I've got everything under control. You don't think I would let anything happen to my little brother, now, do you?"
" I'm not sure about that, " Gerald mumbled, not feeling very comfortable and certainly not safe.
Lucy threw her head back and just laughed, always enjoying teasing her siblings with her fast and wild driving. Jody got genuinely upset with her a few times and only when she threatened to get out of the car and walk, Lucy had slowed down.
There was a lot of traffic, as usual and they made slow progress, much to Lucy's annoyance.
" This is gonna take forever, " she sighed, pointing at all the cars in front of them.
" Good exercise for your patience, " Gerald remarked, still recovering from the scare she had given him just a few minutes before.
" You are just grumpy, " Lucy smirked. " Why is that men always think they are better drivers than women? You know, Matt and dad have had a few accidents, but Jody and I never did run into anything."
" Yet, " was Gerald's wry reply. " Just keep up driving like this and you will."
" We'll see, " Lucy grinned, pulling up again.
" They are taking a right turn, Steve, off the highway " Fred remarked, not taking his eyes off the red car, a couple of hundred feet in front of them. " Where do you think they're going?'
" How would I know?" Little Steven grumbled. " We'll see soon enough, won't we? Just keep an eye on them. Jesus, this car in front of me keeps on changing lanes. He's driving me bonkers."
Fred nervously rubbed his hands together and quickly glanced at the man sitting next to him. Little Steven's face had a very determined expression, his eyes were squinted and his lips pursed. He was definitely not screwing up this time and that knowledge made Fred feel a lot better. They still might have a chance not to end up as shark bait. That thought made him nauseous and he felt his mouth go dry.
" Don't go there, Fred. It's no use. Just make sure you don't fuck up again. Those Sheila's are your lifeline, use them, regardless. This time it's a matter of to eat or to be eaten. Literally."
" I'm glad we only have to cross this section, " Lucy sighed, pushing back her dark hair. " There won't be much traffic going up on Megan and Sarah's road. Thank goodness. Where do all these people come from anyway?"
Gerald shrugged his shoulders and wanted to give his sister a reply, when her cell phone started buzzing.
" Will you take that, Bird? It's in my purse. I don't want to scare you by driving and calling."
Gerald ignored the teasing and pulled Lucy's purse from the back seat, grabbing the buzzing cell phone.
" Hey, Gerald? It's me, Sam."
" Hey, Sam, " Gerald smiled. " What's up? We're nearly there, so, no use in wasting good money, huh?"
" Listen, Ger, " the anxiety in Sam's voice made Gerald sit up straight and he noticed Lucy shooting him a quizzical look. " This might be very important. Did you and Luce go to Jody's place, before coming here?"
" Well, actually we did. You know, Luce, she's just too damn curious."
" Where are you now?"
" We just left the Pacific Highway. We're almost there."
" Don't "
Gerald clenched the phone in his hand and furrowed his brows.
" What? But…"
" Tell Lucy to keep on driving, okay? "
" But Sam.."
" Tell her, Gerald," Sam's voice was tense and Gerald could tell she was upset.
" Don't go up to Megan's Luce, " he obediently said. " I don't know what the hell is going on, but Sam doesn't want us there."
" What? But why..?"
" I don't know, just do it. I don't want to piss off, Sam. She sounds very serious."
" Still here, Sam. We just keep on driving. What is going on?"
" Someone might be following you, " Sam explained. She suddenly sounded very tired. " This guy that trashed the apartment. He got away last night and I'm afraid he didn't find what he was looking for."
" And what was that?"
" I'll explain later, Bird. Okay?"
Gerald nodded, as if Sam could see him and cast a look in the rearview mirror. He saw nothing out of the ordinary.
" So, what do we do now?"
" I haven't figured that out yet, Bird, " Sam's voice was a lot more relaxed and Gerald could actually hear a trace of humor in it. " Just make sure you don't go anywhere isolated. Just keep on driving. I'll call you back. Okay?"
" Fine, Sam. Talk to you later."
Gerald switched off the phone and sighed.
" This is like some damn police movie, " he sighed. " And you know what? I don't like it. Sam thinks we might have someone tailing us. The guy that was at Pea's place last night."
" You're kidding, " Lucy reacted, immediately checking out her mirror. " So, we have to keep on driving?"
" Yup, although that might seem a bit suspicious. Why don't we find a crowded place where we can have a cuppa, or something? We'll just wait for Sam to call back "
Lucy bit her lip and nodded, still keeping an eye on her mirror.
" Sounds like a plan. " she admitted with a smile. " Just make sure you take the most expensive drink. Sam can pay for it later."
A pair of worried green eyes followed all Sam's movements when she switched off the phone, tossed it on the table and sank down in a chair. She raked her hands through her unruly hair and sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. Jody stepped closer and put her hand on Sam's shoulder, feeling the tension in the muscles underneath the light blue cotton.
" They keep on driving?" she asked, softly stroking the fabric underneath her hand.
Sam nodded and grabbed the hand that was caressing her shoulder, rubbing her cheek against the soft skin. Immediately Jody's other hand found it's way to Sam's neck, scratching gently.
" Now what?" she softly asked.
Sam didn't immediately answer. She stared at the table in front of her, without seeing it. Her mind was racing to come up with all the answers.
What can I do? I'm sure he's looking for us, for me, because I have the disks, although he might not know that. This is so much more serious than I thought it would be. Maybe I should have told Carol Wong about those disks last night. Maybe I should give her a call now. But what could I tell her? I'm not even sure Lucy and Gerald were followed. Dammit, what a mess!! How do I get us out of here? Maybe we should go, we can't risk putting Sarah and Megan into danger. That wouldn't be right. Maybe I should go by myself, so Jody can stay here. She'll be safe as long as they don't find out where she is. Mmm..that could work. I could try and find out who this guy is and what he wants. If I'm right about him I could call Carol. Get it all done and over with.
" Sam?" Jody asked for the third time, worried by the silence and the hand that was squeezing her fingers tight.
" Come here, Jody, " Sam answered, pulling her in the chair next to her. She took both Jody's hands in her own, rubbing her skin with her thumbs.
Jody saw the somber expression on her friend's face and somehow knew she didn't want to hear what she was about to say.
" I think I have a plan, " Sam began, avoiding the pleading green eyes that were so close to her own. " Listen and, please, let me finish first, okay?"
Now I definitely know I'm not going to like what she is has in mind. Come on, Sam, what is it?
" We are not sure about anything, right now. Right? I mean, there was somebody looking for something in your apartment last night and we think he was after the disks, but we can't tell for sure. We also don't really know if Lucy and Gerald were followed. I think they were, but we're not sure. Right? So, here's what I want to do. I'll call Lucy and Gerald and tell them to go to that little restaurant just off the Highway, you know the one, when you turn right? I'll go there myself and keep an eye on the place. Maybe I can see if someone is following them. And if they do I can try to find out who he is and what he wants." Sam raised her hand to prevent Jody from speaking and softly squeezed her hand. " I want you to stay with Megan and Sarah. You will be safe here. I will come back as soon as I've got the information I need. I promise."
"No, Sam, " Jody's eyes were blazing and Sam knew what that meant. Trouble. " I will come with you."
" Jody listen, " Sam tried to sound as reasonable as she could. " My guess is that he or they know you. They have seen you. They might have seen me too, but that was not for long. When they see us together, we will stand out like…a grizzly in the snow."
That last remark was meant to be a joke, but Jody ignored it completely, too upset with the plan her friend had come up with.
" Sam, I don't think….," she argued, but Sam interrupted.
" Jody, you will stay here and I will go. By myself. Please, don't make this harder than it already is."
Jody looked into a pair of pleading blue eyes, but was too irritated to see the concern.
" Have it your way, " she snapped, pulling her hands from Sam's.
She jumped up and without saying another word she disappeared into the house, never looking back and missing the pained expression on Sam's face.
Megan, who was still in the kitchen, saw Jody barging in but didn't even have the chance to ask what was wrong. The angry young woman slammed the door of the bedroom behind her, causing a pair of soulful brown eyes to stare at the wooden barrier with astonishment.
Megan glanced outside to see Sam pacing the verandah with a grim look on her face.
" Oh, this doesn't look good, " she whispered to herself, tossing the towel in the sink and heading outside.
" Sam?" she carefully asked. " What's wrong?"
Sam turned to look at the dark haired woman and tried to smile, but failed miserably. All she could come up with was a pained grimace. She shrugged her shoulders and buried her hands in the pockets of her shorts, to hide the trembling of her fingers.
" Apparently we have a disagreement."
In a few words she told Megan about what had happened and what she was planning to do. Megan listened attentively and nodded in approval when Sam finished her story.
" Sounds sensible, " she agreed.
" Try and tell Jody, " Sam snorted. " God, Megan, she can be so stubborn!! All I want to do is keep her safe. Why doesn't she understand that?"
" Because she loves you, Sam," was the simple answer. " She doesn't want anything to happen to you."
" It won't. I'm not stupid. I only want to check the place out, see if I can come up with something, that's all. I don't have the intention to put myself in danger, I'm not one of those flippin' Charlie's Angels."
They'd wish. You would be a gorgeous one.
" You want me to have a talk to her? I know that stubborn streak of hers, you know. Dealt with it a couple of times myself."
" Be my guest, " Sam sighed, flopping down in one of the chairs, making it squeak in protest. " Nothing I can say that will make a difference."
Jody was sitting against the headboard of the bed. Her arms wrapped around her pulled up knees. She stared at the wall, biting her lip in order to keep the tears away.
Why do you treat me like a little kid, Sam? I am big enough to look after myself, you know. I have been doing that for years now. And I'm not that scared easily. You think I have nothing to do with this? Well, let me tell you, it was my apartment they trashed. I was the one who got those disks in the first place. It was my office they set on fire. I don't need you to be my guardian angel, I want you to be my friend. And I don't want you to get hurt.
The tears she bravely tried to swallow away came anyhow and with an annoyed gesture she wiped them away. A soft knock made her look up, but before she could react, the door was opened and Megan stepped inside, carefully closing the door behind her.
" Did Sam send you?" Jody quickly asked, not at all pleased by that idea.
" No, " Megan asked. " I volunteered to step into the lion's pit myself. I am familiar with your sharp teeth, my friend."
Megan took a seat on the bed, opposite her friend and looked at her sternly.
" Sam is right, you know, " she remarked.
" Yeah, just side with her, " Jody sneered. " I need that."
Megan ignored that remark and if Jody would have looked at her, she would have seen a small smile, tugging at the corner of her mouth.
" What's the real problem, Pea?"
Jody's fingers did a good job twitching her shirt out of proportion and gently Megan covered the fidgeting fingers with her own. Immediately they grabbed hold of hers, holding her tight.
" I am scared, Megs." Jody finally whispered, voicing her feelings.
" Of what?"
Jody swallowed hard and moistened her lips before answering.
" I don't want to sound melodramatic, or something, but I don't want to lose her. That guy last night pulled a knife on her, for crying out loud. I can't let her go by herself."
" Don't you trust her, Jo? She says she won't take any chances. I believe her."
" I do trust Sam, I don't trust the rest of the world," Jody sighed. " If I lose her I'd die."
A pair of emerald green eyes searched Megan's face for recognition and she was rewarded with a smile.
" Then tell her that. It will make her even more careful. And you have to realize you are not helping her by sitting here and sulk. You don't want her to worry about you, now do you?"
Jody bent her head in defeat and felt a soft hand brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. She knew Megan was right. She had been acting like a spoiled little brat, who threw a tantrum, because she didn't get what she wanted. Jody softly groaned and heard Megan chuckle in response.
"Embarrassing, huh?" Megan smiled. " Don't worry, sweetie, I'm sure she'll forgive you. Just doing that eye-batting trick of yours always worked with me."
Jody looked up at her friend and laughed at the memory.
" Might not work with Sam, though," she replied.
" Heck, woman, " Megan joked. " I'm convinced you don't even need it. She's crazy about you, just in case you hadn't noticed. Come on, go see her, before that laptop is wrecked. She was rattling those keys like they are her worst enemy."
Jody laughed and jumped up, giving Megan a heartfelt hug, before leaving the room, heading for the verandah.
Sam was staring at the screen in front of her, but the data that scrolled by was constantly disturbed by the image of a pair of angry green eyes, blazing with fire and indignation. She tried to focus on the puzzle in front of her, but somehow couldn't concentrate. Frustrated she shoved the laptop away from her, jumping up, with the intention to take a walk.
When she had her foot on the first step of the stairs, the kitchen door was opened and a subdued looking Jody appeared. She didn't try to avoid Sam's eyes, but looked straight back, her eyes showing everything Sam needed to know.
Sam stepped back onto the verandah and smiled, opening her arms. Jody didn't need further encouragement. She almost dove into Sam's embrace, hiding her face against a warm chest that echoed a rapid heart beat.
" I'm sorry, Sam, " Jody whispered. " I didn't want to be mean, I just want you to be safe."
" That's exactly my intention, " Sam answered, pulling her friend closer. " Keeping you and me both safe."
"I acted like a two-year-old, didn't I? "
" Mmm, I wouldn't say that, " Sam answered, the mirth evident in her voice. " It was more like a three-year-old. There is a difference you know."
" All right, I deserved that, " Jody sighed, looking up into a pair of twinkling blue eyes. "I just…"
Her words were smothered by lips that captured hers in a long, passionate kiss. Immediately Jody's arms were wrapped around Sam's neck, pulling her closer, enthusiastically participating in the exchange.
"You know the best thing about arguing? " Sam whispered, placing a trail of kisses along the soft, silky skin of a shapely neck. " Making up afterwards."
Jody smiled and softly moaned when Sam playfully nipped a particular sensitive spot behind her ear.
" You like that, huh?" Sam purred, always happy to discover new areas to explore. " I'll have to make a mental note of that."
" I bet you would, " Jody answered, squirming in her arms. " But if you keep this up, Dutchie, my brother and sister won't be too pleased."
" You have a point there, " Sam smiled, kissing Jody on the nose. " But I'll be back."
" Oh, I count on that, " was the whispered answer. " Just hurry, will ya?"
" All right, girls, " Megan sighed, letting herself fall down on one of the kitchen chairs. " You promised us the full story as soon as Sarah would be back. Spill it."
Her dark eyes looked from Sam to Jody and back again, inviting them to tell their story. Sarah had taken a seat next to her and Megan could feel a soft hand squeezing her knee. She glanced aside to see a pair of gray eyes radiating warm affection. With a smile Megan put her hand over Sarah's, leaving it there, gently stroking the skin underneath her hand.
" Well, I guess I have to start at the beginning, " Jody answered. " Last Thursday I…my God, it's only been three days ago, it seems so much longer. Anyway, last Thursday…"
With a clear voice Jody told her friends about her running into Sam at The Reef, the way her father had deliberately drove them apart, the messing with the accounts, the fire, their suspicions and the way her apartment was methodically destroyed. After relating the story there was a long silence and both Sarah and Megan looked at the women across the table with a horrified expression in their eyes.
" Honey, you're crushing my fingers, " Sarah friendly told Megan, who had unconsciously tightened her grip on Sarah's hand. " I need some blood there."
" Oh, I'm sorry, baby, " Megan nervously chuckled, immediately letting go of the bloodless digits. " Good grief, I can hardly believe this, Jody. But aren’t the police doing something?
Jody cast a quick look at Sam and the other women saw her hesitate.
" They are, in a way, " Sam replied, speaking for the first time. " I didn't tell them about the disks yet, though."
" But, Sam, why?" Sarah asked, full of surprise. " It seems they might be the keys to this whole mess."
" I know," Sam replied. " But I wanted to be sure there was something to be found on them."
" Is there?" Megan curiously asked.
Sam looked at Jody, silently apologizing for the way her friend was about to hear her discoveries. But Jody smiled and nodded, encouraging Sam to continue.
"Well, " Sam started, clearing her throat. " At first I thought there was nothing to be seen, but as I was pulling apart the data I discovered a few remarkable things. Every employer that works for our company has his own number. It's used for identification. It consists of day of employment combined with date and year of birth and a gender code. That way, it's nearly impossible to have two employees with exactly the same identification number. I discovered that at The Reef, a few people work with exactly the same employer identification number."
" What? " Jody reacted, completely astonished. " But…how?"
" I don't know 'how' yet, but I know somebody has been inventing five employees, who do not exist. I emailed the financial records on that to my brother and hope he can quickly work it out. My guess is those fake ID's were a way to draw away money. I ran into two different bank accounts that were both connected with all five employee numbers. Makes you wonder, huh?"
" But, Sam, why didn't I see that? I've been looking through them numerous times." Jody exclaimed.
" Because they were hidden in various sub directories, honey. It took me quite a while to find them. Only when I started to put them together I could see there was something wrong."
" When will you tell the police all this, Sam? " Sarah asked. " This is fraud, pure and simple."
" I'll wait for Tom's report on it first and I want to know who thinks those disks are important enough to be a threat to Jody. I refuse to put her in any kind of danger. It's not like it's a million-dollar scam. I mean, there's a lot of money involved, but somehow I feel there is a lot more to it. I would like to have a talk with the illustrious William Jensen, see what his story is."
Brian, one of the reception clerks of The Reef had just explained to a couple of German tourists how to get to the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary. He looked at the entrance where a familiar, but rarely seen figure appeared. His eyes widened when he saw his manager. And on a Sunday. It took him a lot of effort to hide his surprise and he politely smiled when William Jensen approached his desk.
" Hello Brian, " William Jensen greeted the young man with a smile that never reached his eyes. " Everything all right? No problem?"
" Um…no, sir, no, everything is under control, " Brian quickly answered, trying to regain his composure. " No problems. The office wing is closed, due to the fire the other day, but the guest that was up there checked out."
William Jensen looked up, a crease in hid forehead.
" Did we have a guest in the executive room? Who?"
Brian knew he was not allowed to give any information about guests to anyone, but William Jensen was his superior. That would surely be allowed.
" A Dutch woman, sir. Jennifer DeWit."
" From Stevens Inc.?"
" Uh…yes, sir, she did have an employee identification."
" Do you have a copy?"
" Well, we do…but…"
" Show me."
William Jensen stretched his hand out and gave Brian a stern look, apparently not in the mood to discuss the need of his request.
With flushed cheeks the young clerk rummaged through the file cabinet underneath his desk. Jody was the one who always took care of the copies they made from the various passports. Destroying them when guests checked out. But since she had not been at work since Friday they were still filed in one of the drawers.
Reluctantly Brian handed the copy of Sam's employee ID to his superior.
William Jensen nearly pulled it out of his hands and eagerly cast a look at the paper. He immediately felt the blood drain from his face when he recognized the black and white picture. He pursed his lips and tried to stop his hands from trembling. Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, the daughter of the boss came for a visit. He recognized her from a picture he had seen in one of Stevens Inc.'s business magazines. She worked for her father. He didn't have to wonder why she used a different name. They had find out. And she had been sent to check on the accounts.
William Jensen swallowed hard when he folded the sheet of paper and put it in his pocket, ignoring Brian's curious gaze.
" I need the key to the safe, Brian."
" Um…Jody said…."
" I don't care what Jody said. I'm the manager here and I want the key to the safe. I have to make a deposit. Can't have too much money lying around."
The fact that it was a Sunday had apparently escaped his attention, but Brian didn't dare object. He didn't know his manager very well, because he usually dealt with Jody, but he didn't want to risk losing his job. He handed over the key and silently watched his superior fidgeting with it for a while.
"Where is Jody anyway? " William Jensen finally asked.
" It's Sunday sir, she had the weekend off. Besides, they broke in into her apartment yesterday. I think she's staying with family right now."
William Jensen felt his stomach rebel and he tried to swallow away a sudden feeling of nausea.
" They broke in into her apartment? Yesterday?"
" Yes, sir. Nick was on duty and he told us Jody had called to bring over some coffee. They had to wait for the police."
" That…Jennifer DeWit, was she there as well?"
Brian cast down his eyes and hesitated only for one moment.
" Miss DeWit was there as well, yes." Except Nick said her name is Sam Stevens and not Jennifer DeWit. But somehow I feel I shouldn't tell you this.
" Right, " William Jensen drawled. " Thanks Brian."
He turned around and quickly walked towards the stairs that were leading to the third floor, where the safe was.
My God, everything just goes wrong! The daughter of the boss shows up. And now they're after Jody. Joe was right, she must have those disks. Dammit! I never thought she would find out, let alone copy the freaking files. Jesus, Joe is relentless, Jody wouldn't stand a chance. She doesn't know what she got herself in to. Maybe I should warn her? I mean, she's a very nice person, she's honest. It's not her fault I got myself into this mess. But when I warn her, I have to explain why. I can't do that. I have to get myself out of this situation. I have to think about myself, my family. God, Cheryl doesn't know anything. How could I tell her? I just need two more days. One big win at the racetracks and I'm home free. I can do it. I know I can. I have to. It will all be over by Wednesday. I can do this.
" Okay, Sam, are you all set? " Sarah asked, looking at the taller woman with a very serious expression on her face.
Sam nodded, trying hard not to see the anxiety in Jody's eyes, who tried to hide the fear and tried to ignore the knots in her stomach.
" I called Lucy. They will just stay where they are and wait at the restaurant until they hear from me."
Sarah shot a glance at Megan and smiled at her partner.
" I'll drop Sam off and will come back immediately. All right?"
" That's okay, sweetie, Jody and I won't go anywhere. " Megan took Sarah's hand and pulled her with her to the driveway. " I'll walk you to the car."
Jody stared at her disappearing friends and chuckled in spite of her nervousness.
" That was not even a hint, " she remarked.
Sam smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
" It's not very subtle, " she agreed. " But I appreciate it just the same."
She stretched out her hand and grabbed the other woman's shoulder, pulling her closer.
With a heartfelt sigh Jody wrapped her arms around Sam's waist, resting her head against a blue clad shoulder.
" You'll be careful, won't you?" she asked, even though she knew the answer.
" I will, " Sam solemnly pledged. " I promise. I'll have a look around. I might even be wrong about all this, maybe it's just my imagination running wild."
I doubt it, Sam, I know you better than that.
" Maybe, " Jody whispered, not at all convinced.
She pulled her head back to look up in Sam's eyes. For a long moment they stared at each other, silently exchanging feelings and promises that were not put into words yet.
" You'd better go, " Jody finally said. " It's not getting easier, besides the sooner you'll go, the sooner you'll be back. Right?"
" Right, " Sam smiled.
She ducked her head and captured Jody's lips for a lingering kiss. They took their time, thoroughly exploring each other’s softness. It was Sam who finally broke the contact.
" I'll be back as soon as I can, " she whispered, kissing the freckled nose in front of her.
She quickly turned around and walked to Sarah who was patiently waiting for her, not once looking back.
Jody stared at the disappearing form of her tall friend, biting back tears, remembering the last time she had felt that lost
All night long she had not been able to sleep. The hours and minutes seemed to crawl and the darkness of the night just refused to make way for the early dawn. Jody had spent most of the night on a chair near the window of her bedroom, staring outside, not able to enjoy the beauty of the millions of stars or the way the moonlight caught the trees in a silvery light.
Her stomach was tied in knots every time she realized what she was about to do, leaving her family. She knew her father would disown her for what she was about to do, but she felt he had left her no choice. Deep down inside Jody knew it was only her father who despised her for loving Sam, but losing her whole family would be the consequence of leaving. Lucy had assured her she would never abandon her, but Jody knew that, as long as her sister would live at home, her father would never allow her to visit her older sister. But how could a feeling that came so natural to her be wrong? Falling in love with Sam had been a revelation, showing Jody parts of herself that she knew had always been there. It had made her at peace with herself, realizing she had discovered her most inner self. She couldn't remember feeling so whole. So complete.
Jody felt a lump in her throat and tried to bite back the tears that were stinging her eyes. They came anyway. She silently cried over the loss of her home, the uncertainty of the future and the pain of being forced to make decisions, that should not have been an issue if only there would have been more understanding. For the first time in her life she felt lost and truly lonely. Caught between two loves that somehow couldn't integrate. Leaving her without the loving support of her family, the only safe place she had ever known, except for Sam's arms.
"Fiona, please, stop whining. We don't have time to visit your sister. I've got to do some grocery shopping and after that we go and see your father. Maybe next time."
Joan McDonnell cast a look in her rearview mirror and sighed when she saw the unhappy face of her youngest daughter. She knew her fourteen-year-old adored her eldest sister, whom she didn't see that often. It was hard on the teenager, living with just an older brother and a very strict father. Fiona was as rebellious as Lucy has been and Joan often felt like she was caught between two fires, not able to take sides. She respected the rules her husband had installed, but often felt sorry for her children, afraid all the rules and regulations would turn them away from their parents one day. Fiona was as stubborn and outspoken as Lucy, which had gotten her in trouble more times than her mother could count.
" Why don't we give Jody a call later, ask her if it's all right when we visit tomorrow, when she's at work. Maybe we can have lunch together."
Joan McDonnell realized the fact that her husband was still admitted in the hospital gave her a lot more freedom to unfold certain initiatives, like visiting her daughter, something she normally wasn't able to do. Deep down inside she felt a little guilty about this infidelity, but on the other hand she appreciated the freedom the absence of David gave her.
Fiona's face lit up by a brilliant smile and she looked at her mother in eager expectation.
" Can we?" she asked, afraid she had misinterpreted her mother's proposal.
" Yes, we can, " Joan smiled " We'll give your sister a call, okay?"
" Cool," Fiona beamed, suddenly very happy at the prospect of spending some time with Jody, without the presence of her other siblings.
Joan smiled and took a right turn, off the Goldcoast Highway to visit one of the little deli shops she liked so much. She parked her car near 'Dutch Treat' and turned around in her seat to look at her youngest daughter.
" Are you coming in with me?"
" Can I have some licorice?"
" Are you trying to bribe your poor old mother?" Joanne laughed. " Well, all right, you can have some, if you promise me you won't eat it all at once like you did last time. You were sick all day."
" I won't," Fiona grinned, stepping out of the car and following her mother inside " I'm gonna enjoy it this time."
Sarah drove her car onto the highway trying to relax and not to think about how uncomfortable Sam would be, folding her tall frame on the backseat to stay out of sight. Sarah glanced over her shoulder to look into a pair of amused blue eyes.
" You okay? Doesn't look very comfy."
" I'll live, "Sam grinned, trying to extend one of her long legs to avoid a cramp. " We're nearly there anyway, aren't we?"
" Yes, about two miles, I guess. I'll park near the shops. You should be able to get out without being noticed. There are some souvenir shops as well, so you could look around for a while and keep an eye on Lucy and Bird. Oh, and Sam, in case you might need to….um….disappear, the shop at the corner has two entrances, one at the back."
" Thanks, Sarah, " Sam chuckled. " Might come in handy. You never know."
Sarah skillfully parked her car between two pickup trucks and quickly looked around. There were a lot of people around, but they were all very much interested in the items the shops displayed.
" You can get out, Sam."
Sam opened the car door and extended her legs, grateful to be able to stretch her muscles again. She groaned when she felt a cramp in her right leg and firmly rubbed her affected calf, before putting her weight on it. She looked at Sarah, smiled and disappeared into the nearest shop, limping almost invisibly.
Sarah's eyes followed her in and when she was convinced that Sam could not been seen anymore, she pulled up, only looking back once.
" Humm..'Dutch Treat', how appropriate, " she chuckled, before steering her car back on the road.
Sam decided to leisurely stroll along the isles, checking out the various items, before focusing on the restaurant across the street. She smiled when her eyes caught sight of a 'Dr. Oetker' butter biscuit mix, which was presented as a typical Dutch treat.
" Wouldn't mind a slice of that right now, " she mumbled, remembering the sweet soft taste of the cake. One of her mother's specialties.
When she passed the licorice, acid drops and peppermint sticks she nearly collided with a dark haired teenager, who nearly jumped in front of her.
" Excuse me, " the girl politely apologized, looking up at the tall woman.
Sam glanced down with a smile and immediately froze in place. The face that was looking up at her was the spitting, freckled image of Lucy McDonnell, which could only mean one thing.
Fiona was about to turn around and join her mother, who was talking to the shop owner, when a long forgotten memory surfaced.
" Okay, little bookworm, " Sam laughed. " Here you go."
A pair of strong arms lifted the six-year-old girl effortlessly out of the water, only to throw her back in again.
Fiona sputtered and wiped the water out of her face, her eyes shining with pleasure.
" Sam, you're much stronger than Jody, " she called. " Is that because you're taller?"
" No, that's because I like to eat spinach…and little girls," Sam replied, diving in to grab the little girl by the ankles.
Fiona squeaked and tried to get away from the long arms that were trying to lift her up again. She enjoyed playing with Sam in the creek on their father's property. Whenever her brothers tried to play games like that she never liked it. They were too rough, but with Sam it was different. Sam was gentle and never did anything that Fiona didn't like. And she had much more patience.
Fiona glanced at her eldest sister, who was sitting on the grass, a bright smile on her face. She waved and received a blown kiss in return.
" Sam, why don't we get Jody all wet? She's been sitting there for ages now." Fiona whispered like a true conspirator.
Sam followed her gaze and her smile deepened when she caught sight of her friend who was enjoying the scene in front of her, not aware of the sneaky little plans her little sister was coming up with.
A pair of dark green eyes searched her face and Sam couldn't help smiling when she saw the mischief on Fiona's face. She was very fond of Jody's little sister had never made a secret about that.
" Let's do it, " she replied, her blue eyes sparkling.
" Sam, you're great fun, " Fiona chuckled. " I wish you were my sister too."
Sam saw the expression of the teenager's face change from polite interest to astonishment. Without hesitation she quickly stepped past her, looking for the exit, only to see Joan McDonnell standing in front of the door, still talking to the shop owner, blocking her escape route.
Sam inwardly cursed and turned around to walk to the other site of the shop.
Good thing you didn't come with me, Jody, or you would have had a lot of troubles. God, what do I do now? How do I get myself out of this mess?
She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed the number Jody had given her.
" You know what, Ger? If Sam doesn't show up soon, I might fall asleep, " Lucy yawned, finishing her third cup of coffee. " And I'll be using the bathroom a lot as well. I'm drinking way too much coffee here."
Gerald extended his long legs, crossing them at the ankles and looked totally relaxed. His eyes lazily swept the ones passing by, thoroughly enjoying himself.
" Mmmm.." was his answer.
Lucy looked at him and her eyes were shining with mirth.
" For a marine biology student you sure don't display a lot of intelligence. 'Mmmm', is that all you can say? I am trying to have a civilized conversation with you."
" That's your problem, sis, you talk too much," Gerald answered with a grin.
Lucy was just about to playfully kick him when her cell phone rang.
" Finally, ' she sighed. " Hello? Hi, Sam."
Her smile suddenly disappeared and Gerald saw her almost jumping off her chair.
" You're kidding! …..No, of course….we'll be there in a minute. Hang on."
With widened eyes she looked at her brother, who could barely contain his curiosity.
" Fiona and mom are in that shop. And so is Sam."
Gerald needed no further encouragement. He raised his tall frame and almost ran away, leaving his muttering sister behind to pay the bill.
Fiona looked from her mother, who was still enjoying her animated discussion, to Sam, who was trying very hard not to look like she was hiding in the darkest corner she could find. Her intelligent eyes showed a keen interest in the blond woman, whom she knew, she was certain about that.
Sam could almost feel Fiona's piercing eyes, but she refused to look up. The last thing she wanted was to cause a scene and blow her chance to find out who had been demolishing Jody's apartment. And why. Her heart started racing when she noticed, from the corner of her eye, that Fiona was about to come her way. But at that same moment Gerald entered the shop and Sam was so relieved she let out a long breath.
" Hey mom!" he cried out in surprise. " Hi, little mongrel, " he greeted his sister, who turned around to face her brother and Sam made a mental not to recommend Gerald for the upcoming Academy Awards.
" What are two beautiful ladies like you, doing in a shop like this? " he joked.
He kissed his mother on her cheek and grabbed her arm to lead her away from the door, chatting enthusiastically. Unnoticed by his family he winked at Sam, who quickly left her corner, to walk towards the exit. But when she had almost reached her goal, Fiona stepped in front of her.
" Hi, Sam, " she whispered, her dark green eyes full of wonder.
Sam nervously looked at Gerald who was still guiding his mother away from the door. Sam's mind was racing, not knowing how to react. She had always liked Fiona and knew those feeling used to be mutual. But what would the girl do when she acknowledged who she was. The pleading look in those big green eyes tipped the scales. Sam's eyes held Fiona's and a small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth.
" Hi, Fiona. Yeah, it's me, " she softly answered, smiling at the joy in the girl's face. " Listen, I can't talk right now, but I will explain everything. Soon. Okay?"
Fiona nodded and glanced at her mother.
" Are you with Jody now?" she whispered.
Sam was struck by that question and could only nod. Realizing that six years olds must have a lot more sense than grown ups would give them credit for.
" I am, " she replied. " But I really have to go now."
" Talk to you later, Sam. I'm glad you're back."
Sam reached out and gently touched Fiona's cheek.
" It's good to be back, " she smiled. " I will see you later. Okay?
" Okay. I won't tell anyone."
" Thanks. I appreciate that."
Sam stepped outside and paced away, leaving behind an awestruck teenager, that had the widest smile plastered on her face.
The metal of the car reflected the scorching sun and almost prevented the occupants from breathing, because of the heat. To save fuel they had turned off the engine. The windows were rolled down, but there was no cooling breeze, just the heat that surrounded everything and was about to swallow them whole.
Fred had to really strain himself to keep his eyes open. The heat made him sleepy and constantly staring at the ongoing traffic didn't help much either.
" I still don't understand why you couldn't have parked under a tree or something, " he mumbled. " This sun is killing us. Them two are nice and comfy over there, sipping away their cuppa. They're not going anywhere, Steve."
" Shut up, you idiot, " Little Steven hissed. " Can't you see she on the phone? They might go somewhere soon. I reckon that blondie is very clever. She must have known they've been to the apartment. She knows we're looking for her. Just be patient, will you?"
" Still think it's a bloody waste of time, " Fred grumbled, looking forward to a cold Foster's. But he suddenly sat up straight when Gerald jumped up and hastily crossed the street.
" See?" Little Steven growled. " Something might be up."
They both watched Gerald enter one of the stores. It was a busy Sunday, with a lot of people enjoying themselves, strolling past the little souvenir shops. They missed the exit of a tall, blond woman, quickly leaving the store. She mingled with a little group of tourists and disappeared around the corner. However they did see Lucy follow her brother in a few minutes later.
Suddenly a slender, dark haired girl came outside, happily chewing on what appeared to be licorice. She casually leaned against one of the newsstands on the pavement and looked around with a bored expression on her freckled face.
" Look at that, Steve, " Fred chuckled, forgetting the heat and his annoyance. " That redhead's sister shrunk. Wow, it's a spitting image. You think it's their kid sister?"
" No doubt, " Little Steven replied with a grim look. " And I'll tell you something else, Freddy, she just became our one way ticket to the disks."
Continued in part 6