Point of interest: this story is, among other things, about two women who choose to spend their lives together and make it legal and official. The fact that same sex couples can get legally married in The Netherlands (and Belgium and Canada!!!!!) is not fiction, but reality.
Dedication: As always I am grateful for having a beta reader, who is not shy and never hesitates to tell me when things are not clear or spicy enough <g> or when things just don't make sense at all.
This story is the sequel to The Reef. I am sure both stories can be read independently from each other, but there will be mentioning of some people and events from The Reef. So, ...... it's up to you, dear readers....
There will be hurt and comfort in this story, but also a lot of friendship and love. Some violence and the mentioning of child abuse and murder. It's not done from a sensational point of view. It's part of the story. And sadly but truly, violence against children is something that happens way too often.
I am Dutch, so I will not disclaim loving, same sex relationships between consenting adults. But if it's not your cup of tea.....click the X (top right corner). No hard feelings.
The morning had been warm and lazy. Jody smiled when she remembered waking up to a pair of love filled blue eyes that had looked at her with so much admiration, it had penetrated her sleep-induced haze immediately. Jody had reached out and pulled the tall, blond woman close to her, sighing contentedly when she had felt SamĒs naked skin slide against her own.
They had spent the morning making love, enjoyed a late breakfast in bed and a long cool shower afterwards.
Jody yawned and stretched her body that had a pleasant ache in some very private places. Her green eyes took in her surroundings and again, she was in awe with its beauty.
She was sitting outside on the porch, enjoying the view that was displayed in front of her. The green, tree covered hills on the west side of the property and the blue of the ocean in the east. The house was located near the top of a hill and surrounded by tall trees, producing a wall of green that, even during the hot, summer days, provided a welcome coolness.
The graveled driveway led down the hill to eventually catch up with the main road that, in turn, merged with the highway. Twenty minutes was all it took for her to drive from home to work. But still, it felt like they were living in the middle of a wilderness, surrounded by clean air and nature.
The view of the Pacific Ocean in the East, visible between the trees that lined one of the hills and the fields of rolling green, adorned with acres of rainforest, was breathtaking. It made Jody feel that she and Sam had their own little island of happiness.
Jody ås eyes traveled to the road that leisurely wound alongside the hill and ended in a driveway close to the house. She remembered the first time she had seen it. They had taken a turn off the main road and the car had slowly climbed the hill. On the way up they had crossed a couple of creeks, that were fed by a small waterfall in the nearby forest.
The small road had led them through some parts of the forest, where it was nice and cool and after about ten minutes they had spotted the house. It was on top of a hill, surrounded by dozens of tall trees. Jody had loved the old farmhouse immediately and when she had looked at Sam, she had seen a familiar glint in those clear, blue eyes.
They had both laughed and promised each other not to look too eager about wanting to buy the place.
As a wedding gift, SamĒs father, who was a very successful businessman, had promised his daughter and her partner that, if they would find a house they liked, he would pay for it and give it to them as a wedding gift.
That evening Sam had written her father an email and attached some digital pictures of the house. A few days later Richard Stevens' Australian lawyer had invited Sam and Jody to come over to his office to sign the papers.
Two weeks later construction workers had arrived at the site, to make some minor alterations and a month later their dream house was finished. A five bedroom house with a double garage and a wrap around verandah, on twenty acres of land, mostly grassy hills and forest, with a perfect view of the Pacific.
On the lower part of the property, there was a self-contained studio, with its own landscaped back yard and driveway. Sam had loved it, knowing her brother Tom and his family would visit regularly and she was pleased to be able to offer her brother and his family all the privacy they could need.
A large pool perfected the picture and whenever Jody's siblings visited, they always brought their swimming gear.
Inside the house there were tile floors and timber lined ceilings, giving the place a rustic look and providing a necessary coolness during the hot, summer months.
Jody smiled when her thoughts returned to her in-laws. Sam's father was an impressive man, tall, heavyset, with a deep voice that, if raised, would probably sound like thunder. He was an intimidating sight and at first Jody had been a little apprehensive. But after only spending the afternoon with Richard and his wife and seeing how Sam had her father wrapped around her little finger, Jody had learned that Richard Stevens was a kind and gentle man, who would do anything to make his wife and children happy.
Their wedding had proved that. Sam had already told Jody that her home country was one of the first countries in the world, who had passed a law that made it possible for same sex couples to get married. Legally.
Richard had insisted on paying for the wedding and the couple's honeymoon in the south of the country. No matter what Sam and Jody said, he was determined.
Tom, Sam's brother, had just grinned and shrugged his shoulders, reminding his sister of his wedding and the way their parents had organized it to perfection.
" Suck it up, sis," he had chuckled. " Just enjoy the ride. Besides, you'll be disappearing Down Under again. Don't deny them this pleasure."
The wedding had been...impressive, Jody recalled. Both Sam and she wanted to keep things small. Grudgingly, Richard Stevens had promised not to invite all of his friends and business relations.
They had both wanted to dress elegant, but simple on their big day and decided to wear pantsuits. Sam wore a raw silk aqua colored suit, that emphasized her tan and blond hair, while Jody had chosen a sea green silk linen suit that brought out the green color of her eyes beautifully.
The service had been held in the city hall of Sam's hometown, Breda. It had been sunny, that Saturday morning and when the car had pulled up in front of the steps that lead to the huge wooden doors of the old, majestic building people had stopped to watch.
When Sam had opened the door of the car to help her partner out, they had heard a soft, collective gasp of surprise when the onlookers saw the bride and groom were both women. A little insecure Jody had looked up to Sam, who had smiled at her and grabbed her hand.
" You are beautiful," she had whispered, bending her head to kiss Jody's forehead.
The onlookers had smiled and when one of them shouted: " You go, girls!", everybody had started laughing and applauding.
" Gefeliciteerd," ( congratulations) another person had called out, in Dutch, which was impossible for Jody to understand.
Sam had turned around with a grin, her eyes searching the fast growing crowd to find their well wisher.
" Bedankt, (thank you)," she had shouted back in her native language. " But we aren't married yet. She could still say no."
The onlookers had laughed again, while Sam had guided Jody up the steps, translating her brief conversation with the stranger.
" Are you afraid I would say 'No',?" Jody had teased when they had reached the top of the stairs, ready to enter the building.
" No, I know you love me," Sam had whispered, her blue eyes moist. " And this is the most beautiful day in my life. Ten years ago I thought I had lost you forever, but today we will become each other's wives. It's my dream come true."
" Thank you for waiting for me," Jody had whispered back, pulling Sam's head down for a kiss.
Only when they had heard shouting and clapping, they had remembered where they were. With a quick wave and slightly embarrassed grin they had entered the City Hall, where an usher was waiting to accompany them to the wedding- room, where their family and friends were already waiting for them.
Jody closed her eyes and smiled. Their wedding day had simply been awesome. Sam had looked so relaxed and happy and Jody had been pleasantly surprised to find that all the guests spoke English. Even the waiters and waitresses at the hotel where they had held their wedding reception, had simply adjusted, which earned them a huge tip from Richard Stevens.
When Jody had made a remark about it, Sam had smiled and grabbed her hand.
" Most people here speak English and they are hospitable enough to just change from Dutch to English to make you feel at home. It's easier for them to speak English, than it is for you to speak Dutch."
" I still can't get my tongue around it," Jody had chuckled. " It's such a hard thing to learn. I am so grateful for all those people that speak my language."
Jody cast a look at her watch and slowly got up from her comfortable deck chair. Sam had gone down to town, to get a few groceries and she expected her back any time soon. Knowing her partner, she probably was thirsty and Jody decided to make some fresh lemonade.
She realized that soon their long honeymoon would be over and in about a week's time, Jody would return to The Reef, where she had been promoted to manager, while Sam was still kicking around some ideas to expand the services of her father's hotel. She had been seriously exploring the idea of a scuba diving school and had already contacted several instructors to see if they would be interested to work for Stevens Inc.
Just when Jody stepped into the kitchen, the phone rang and quickly she picked it up.
Her face lit up when she heard the person on the other side of the connection.
" Hey, Mom. Didn't change your mind, did you? You are still coming to dinner?...Oh...okay, no, you don't have to bring anything, just yourself....what? That's no problem, Mom, just take your time, we will see you when you get here. The school bus will drop off Fiona and I'll pick her up down the road...Alright.....See ya."
A little later Jody sipped the cold lemonade, waiting for her lover to come back home from her last minute trip to the local shop. They would have dinner guests that evening and, of course, a few of the most important groceries had been forgotten on their last trip to the store.
Jody grinned when remembering Sam's face when the tall blonde noticed they had forgotten to buy cream for the Pavlova Sam loved so much. Jody had offered to make something else instead, but Sam had insisted on driving down and getting some cream.
" Oh, my Dutchie and her sweet tooth," Jody smiled amused, extending her hand to pat their five month old German Shepherd, Kurt on his head.
The dog looked up to her with adoring brown eyes and lazily wagged his tail. Life was good for the canine. He had two humans who looked after his every need and plenty of room to roam around, which he did with abandon.
" Knowing your mommy she will save you some cream," Jody chuckled. "She spoils you rotten, Kurt."
The Shepherd had been a gift from Brian and Chris, who had told them they loved their house, but were a bit worried about the isolated location. A good guard dog had made them feel better about it and one day they had showed up with the adorable, clumsy pup.
Jody and Sam had immediately fallen in love with the dog and ever since he had become part of their family, they had laughed about his antics and enjoyed his presence.
The memories never faded. They clung to her soul, like a dense, chilling fog. Filling the holes in her mind with cold images and the gaps in her heart with icy emptiness.
The nights were entirely too long, even around the summer solstice. Sleep had become something alien and even when exhaustion submerged her in welcome darkness, the dreams soon took over.
It was the heat of the flames, threatening to consume her and making her soundlessly scream. She could see herself, in the middle of a room, reaching out to a little child. Their hands almost touched, while the fire closed in around them. She was so close. But then the licking flames reached her bare skin, and she woke up, bathing in sweat. The image that was burned into her mind, was a pair of wide, panic filled eyes.
A slender girl, that didn't look a day older than fifteen, gazed at the milling crowd with a bored expression on her pale face. She was dressed in a pair of cut off denims and her oversized grey t-shirt hung loosely around her body. The gentle ocean breeze played with her long, blond hair, occasionally whipping a strand into her face. Impatiently she pushed it away, all the time making sure to keep an eye on the entrance of the big hotel.
Cool eyes followed a small group of young girls, who had just left the hotel. They were dressed like they were going to the beach. Short wrap around skirts and bikini tops, bags casually slung over their shoulders. They were walking close together and when they doubled over in laughter, the girl who was watching them softly snorted. One corner of her mouth was lifted in contempt and unconsciously she balled her fists.
" Idiots," she softly snarled, refusing to listen to a little voice in her head that tried to lure her into a discussion.
Ignoring the voice happened more and more. In the past it had sometimes been a comfort, especially on one of those cold, wet winter nights, when she was rolled up into a ball, behind a shed in a backyard, or safely tucked away behind some dense bushes. The voice had given her hope then, talking about the future and better times. But as time went by, she started to ignore it. Things had not improved. She was still out in the rain and cold, or the blazing summer heat.
"My life will never be like that," she realized, after which she shrugged her small shoulders and focussed her gaze on the entrance of the hotel again.
She never usually stayed in one place for long, but the weather had been nice. It was summer and it was hot, but the beach, the breeze and the abundance of trees and gullible tourists had made life a little easier. She had met the woman who worked at the hotel a few days ago. She had accidentally bumped into her and a pair of kind, green eyes, set in a gentle, freckled face had smiled at her. And to her own amazement, she had smiled back. For the first time in...a very long time, somebody had actually looked at her. Acknowledging her existence. Making her feel like she was a human being, instead of a nuisance to society.
Apparently the woman had noticed her hanging around the beach and the hotel, but she never asked her any questions. That evening, when she had walked out of the hotel, she had stopped and her eyes had searched the little park in front of the building, until their eyes had met. Silently she had walked up to her and had handed her a bag.
"Here, I thought you might like this," she had explained, not able to hide her British accent.
After that the woman had turned around and disappeared in the underground-parking garage.
The enticing smell that had wafted up from the bag had made the girl's mouth water and impatiently she had ripped it open. In that one bag she had found more food than she usually saw in a whole week. Sweet rolls, sandwiches, a few candy bars and fruit.
Something had tickled the back of her mind and for a second she had felt compelled to jump up, to follow the woman and thank her for the gift. But more primal needs had quickly taken over and with abandon she had sunk her teeth in a chicken-salad sandwich, moaning in delight when the different flavors exploded in her mouth.
From that day on, she had faithfully waited in the park, until the woman finished work. And she had never left empty-handed. The girl almost felt guilty and ashamed, to rely on somebody else to give her some food. But reason had won out and the feeling of shame had easily been transported to the back of her mind. Life on the streets had taught her never to pass up an opportunity. One day soon the kind woman would get tired of her and no doubt the gifts would stop. But until then, the girl was determined to stick around until it was time for her to move on.
" If you don't watch it, the park will be swarming with kids soon, Joan," Peter Sutton warned the woman who was scavenging his kitchen for leftovers. " I mean, I appreciate what you do, but you can't help them all."
" I know," Joan McDonnell sighed. " I wish I could. But Pete, if I can only help one kid, it will be worth it. Besides, there is something about that girl."
" She's a runaway, mate," Pete muttered, slicing off a big chunk of cooked ham, carefully wrapping it in cling foil and handing it to the smaller woman. " Lots of them are criminals, you know. She might be a juvie."
" My eldest daughter was a runaway once," Joan softly answered. " But somebody helped her and kept her safe. I can never thank them enough, Pete. We are talking about kids here."
Peter Sutton slowly dried off the knife he had been rinsing and turned to the woman he had began to think of as a friend.
" You are right," he finally admitted. " This is somebody's kid. Her parents might be looking for her. But you can't take her in, Jo. What will you do?"
Joan collected some scones and added them to the already full bag. With a smile she looked up at The Reef's chef.
" Gain her trust, I think," she truthfully answered. "After that.....I don't know. We'll see. Like I said, there's something about that kid. I can't explain it, but..."
" You will find out," Peter interrupted her with a grin.
He waved his big hand and shooed his friend out of his domain.
" Go!" he said. " The kid must be starving. I'll see you tomorrow, Joan."
" Alright, Pete. Have a nice evening. And thanks for the ham!"
" Don't mention it," Peter answered, quickly turning around to avoid her twinkling eyes. " And tell that smart kid of yours I could use her help this weekend. If she's interested."
" Oh, she will be," Joan laughed. " Fiona is saving up for her own horse. She'll be here."
" Great! Now, go! I thought you had a dinner to attend. Your girls will be waiting. Bye, Joan."
" I already called Jody to tell her I will be a little late. Bye, Peter," Joan McDonnell laughed, leaving the kitchen to walk back to the reception counter to grab her purse from the desk.
" See you in the morning, Brian," she waved at the assistant manager, who was walking down the hall.
Brian waved back and smiled at his boss' mother.
" Bye, Joan. Tell your girls 'hi' for me."
" I will," Joan grinned, knowing that after Brian was shot in the lobby of The Reef, Jody and Sam had become very close friends with Brian and his partner, Chris.
It had been a scary time, in more than one way, Joan mused when she exited the air-conditioned building and stepped out in the heat of the summer afternoon. So many things had happened, in such a short period of time. And still she thanked God every single day, for keeping her family safe.
Outside, Joan McDonnell squinted her eyes against the glaring sun and searched for an already familiar face. She hid a pleased smile, when a slender form emerged from the shadow of a tree. Slowly the girl walked up to her and suddenly Joan compared the young teenager with a wild cat. Scared and cautious, but also curious and hungry. The lithe frame radiated tension and Joan knew that the girl could turn and run in the blink of an eye.
When the girl had come closer Joan eyes locked with a pair of nervous blue ones and smiling she handed over the bag with goodies. For a moment they looked at each other and again, the shadow of a smile crept over the girl's face.
Joan tried to hide her excitement, but inside she was bubbling with joy. It was the first emotion the girl had ever displayed and in Joan's eyes that was a step in the right direction.
" I'll see you tomorrow," she smiled, wanting to brush away a strand of blond hair from the girl's face, like she had done thousands of times with her own daughters. But Joan held back, instinctively knowing the girl would not appreciate a gesture like that and would probably make a run for it.
The girl did not respond, even though, deep inside she could feel the stirring of an emotion she thought had been long dead: hope. The fact that the woman cared enough about a total stranger, a homeless runaway, to bring her food every day after work, filled her with gratitude and curiosity. To the girl it was obvious that the woman really cared. Her attitude was so different from the looks of disgust, pity and anger she often received. It was confusing.
When Joan had turned around to walk to the parking garage her ears picked up an unfamiliar sound. A husky , rarely used voice, quietly said: " Thank you."
A brilliant smile lit up Joan's face, but she did not turn around.
" You're very welcome," she called over her shoulder, making her way towards her car.
The girl stared at the retreating back of the woman who was so incredibly kind. She had surprised and startled herself, by thanking the woman. When the words had left her mouth, she had instinctively stepped back, expecting the woman to turn around and start talking to her. Like so many people had done in the past. Asking her what a young girl like her was doing on the streets. Inquiring about her parents. Some people almost demanded to know where she spent her nights. As if the gift of a couple of dollars, or some food, gave them the right to pry into her life.
But this woman was so different. She gave and did not expect anything in return. She was just generous and kind. And to the girl's own amazement, she felt herself smile.
She stepped back into the shadow of the trees and quickly opened the bag. Her eyes widened when she saw the huge, thick slice of ham and immediately her mouth started watering.
She looked up to shoot a grateful look in the direction of the kind woman, who was descending the steps into the parking garage. The girl unwrapped the slice of meat and as she impatiently tore off a big chunk to pop it into her mouth, her eyes fell on two figures standing outside the parking garage.
Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, who seemed little older than she was. They were quickly looking around, as if scanning their surroundings. When the young girl saw them nodding at each other and disappearing into the parking garage, she knew they were nothing but trouble.
Normally she would not have cared much. She had seen her share of crime and violence on the streets and usually she made sure to stay away from that as far as possible. But this time it was different. It was obvious the pair was following the kind woman.
For a moment she hesitated, but then the girl grabbed her precious bag and jumped up, running across the square towards the entrance of the garage. She had no idea what to do once she was there, but a little voice told her she at least owed the woman that concern.
A quick look around shown her there were only a few people in the area and without further thinking she dashed down the stairs. A few seconds later she stood in the cool, dimly lit parking garage. As soon as her eyes had adjusted to the semi darkness, she made out two figures standing over a person who was laying on the floor. The girl was roughly pushing the woman's face down, while the boy was trying to yank away the purse that had been slung across her shoulder.
" Hey! Leave her alone," the girl shouted, feeling the anger rise.
She ran towards them and without reducing speed threw herself on the much taller boy. Startled by her action, he toppled over and with a big thud hit his head on the side of a car. It took him a couple of seconds to shake the cobwebs and sudden dizziness the blow to his head had caused.
" Bitch!" he spat.
But the girl knew she had no time to wait until he was on his feet again. With an angry yell she turned towards his friend and punched her square in the face. Blood squirted from the girl's nose and she stumbled back, grabbing the hurt appendage, while shouting profanities at her young attacker.
" Get the hell out of here and leave her alone," the girl shouted.
In the meantime the boy had scrambled back to his feet and he was just about to lunge at her, when a sound interrupted him. They all heard running footsteps coming down the stairs and without thinking twice, he ran across the parking garage towards the back entrance, followed by his friend.
The girl shot them another murderous look and bent down to quickly check on the woman, who seemed to be a bit groggy. Even in the dim light she could see a big lump forming on the side of her head and the girl knew she must have taken a hard blow.
Kneeling next to the woman, she put a hand on her shoulder and carefully shook her. To her relief she saw her eyes slowly open, while a soft groan indicated her discomfort.
The girl was just about to get back to her feet, when suddenly a hand grabbed the back of her shirt and roughly pulled her away.
" You little shit!" a male voice angrily sounded. " What have you done? They should rid the streets of your kind."
The girl struggled to get away, but found herself in an iron grip. The man pulled her even closer and suddenly the girl panicked. It was like she was flooded by darkness and she felt like she was drowning. Her breathing became irregular and shallow and her heart was pounding. A deep buzz filled her ears. Her eyes registered the woman slowly turning over and getting into a sitting position. She saw her lips move but heard no sound. The only thing she was aware of, was the vice like grip on her body and the man's breathing in her ear.
A voice in the back of her head kept repeating the same words over and over, like a mantra " Never again. Never again."
With strength born out of panic and fuelled with adrenaline, the girl managed to wrestle herself free, not even feeling the burning of her skin where his hands had tried to hold their grip.
Her slender body dove to the ground and disappeared under a parked SUV, where she rolled up into a ball, slowly rocking back and forth.
Joan McDonnell had not heard the approaching footsteps, until it was too late. Before she had been able to turn around, she had felt a heavy blow to the side of her head and immediately her knees had given out. Not being able to break her fall, she had hit the oil stained, concrete floor, fighting not to lose consciousness.
She had felt someone trying to pull the strap of her purse from her shoulder and instinctively she had clutched it closer to her body.
She had only been vaguely aware of a girl screaming. When the hands that were pushing her face down had been lifted, she had been flooded with a sense of relief.
A gentle hand on her shoulder had slowly brought her back to her senses and when she had finally been able to lift her head and turn around, she had been witness to the sheer panic on the face of the girl from the park.
Totally confused Joan had watched the girl escape the grip on her body and dive underneath the car that was parked next to her own.
With fear in her eyes she had looked up to the tall, burly man who was kneeling down next to her and she was about to crawl away from him, when his gentle spoken words finally sunk in.
" The police and ambulance are on their way, ma'am," he tried to reassure her, seeing the confusion and fear in her eyes. " You are safe now. That little criminal is hiding underneath the car, but don't worry, the police will take of her."
Joan shook her head, trying to rid herself from the fog that still prevented her from thinking clearly, but the only result was a sharp stab of pain at the side of her head.
" Ouch," she groaned, bringing her hand to her head and feeling the big lump.
Her eyes fell on a paper bag that was lying on the dark, concrete floor. It was ripped open and her eyes detected the slice of ham that Peter Sutton had carefully wrapped in cling wrap not so long ago. Slowly the groggy feeling subsided and the confused look in her eyes was replaced with worry.
" Where did you say the girl is?" she asked, her voice still shaking.
" She is underneath that car," the stranger pointed out. " Scared out of her wits. But you don't need to worry, I am sure the police will lock her up where she belongs. Damn street kid."
Carefully Joan rubbed her sore head, trying to organize her thoughts.
" Oh....I..but you don't understand. She.."
The arrival of a police car, followed by an ambulance interrupted her and visibly relieved the man stood up to face the officers that had jumped out of the car. One of them was a tall woman, with short, curly brown hair. Her green- blue eyes took in the sight before her and when she saw the victim on the ground, her tanned face paled visibly.
" Joan," she exclaimed, kneeling down next to the woman and putting a hand on her shoulder. " Oh, my God, are you alright?"
" Hey, Trish," Joan greeted the familiar police officer. " I...I am not sure. Somebody knocked me over the head."
" She's hiding underneath that car," the stranger pointed out. " Young girl, pretty skinny, but she fights like a wildcat."
Immediately Trish' partner, Peter Jones, knelt down next to the SUV and roughly pulled the girl away from her hiding place. She was still rolled up into a ball, while tears dripped from under her tightly closed eyelids. When he saw her like that he looked up at his partner with a puzzled look.
Trishia Waters stood up to make room for a paramedic and walked over to her partner. She frowned when her eyes caught sight of the young girl. To her experienced eyes the girl in front of her did not fit any of the usual profiles of juvenile delinquents. Hesitating she looked at her partner, who just looked back at her and shrugged his shoulders, indicating he didn't really know what to do either.
Joan had finally regained most of her senses and she gently pushed away the hand of the paramedic, who was examining the lump on her head.
" Just a minute, please," she requested. " Can you help me up?"
" Are you sure that is what you want to do? You might have..."
" Please," Joan repeated, extending her hand to the young paramedic.
He nodded and grabbed her hand, while his other hand slid around her shoulder to carefully help her to her feet. Joan gratefully smiled at him and on still unsteady legs she walked towards the two police officers, flanked by the paramedic, who obviously had no faith in her current physical condition.
Joan put her hand on Trishia's back and looked down at the girl on the ground. Her heart went out to the teenager, who looked so incredibly young and vulnerable. Suddenly she felt tears stinging her eyes.
" It wasn't her, Trish," she softly spoke, her eyes never leaving the girl, who still slowly rocked back and forth.
" Did you see who attacked you?" Trishia asked, knowing Joan was a compassionate woman who was capable of feeling sorry for people who were regarded by society as just a nuisance and non-existent.
" No, I didn't," Joan truthfully answered. " But I know she didn't do it."
" With all due respect, Mrs. McDonnell, she's the only one here," Peter Jones spoke up, looking at his partner with a silent request for support in his eyes.
" But there were two of them," Joan explained. " I am sure about that. One hit me in the head, while the other pushed my face down to the ground. They tried to get my purse. And I...I sort of know this girl. After work I always ...stop by to give her some food."
Joan pointed at the ripped paper bag that was lying on the ground. A silent witness of what had happened in the parking garage.
" I don't believe she would hurt me," she finished, her voice filled with confidence.
" But you don't really know her, Mrs. McDonnell," Peter reasoned. " Sometimes those kids just hang around, waiting for an opportunity."
Trishia bit her lip and turned towards the tall man who had called for their help.
" What exactly did you see, sir?" she asked.
" Well, " the man slowly started, trying to organize his thoughts. " I was leaving the hotel when I saw this girl running into the parking garage. A few moments later I heard shouting and screaming, so I ran in and saw this girl sitting next to this lady."
" What was she doing?"
" Um...just sitting, I guess. She had her hand on her shoulder and was sort of shaking her. Um....I..."
" Shaking or hitting?" Peter asked in a no-nonsense voice.
" Well, she wasn't hitting her," the man truthfully answered. " When I came running in, I had the impression she could have been doing just that, but now I come to think of it, I am not sure."
" You said you heard shouting and screaming," Trishia repeated. " Can you tell me if you could make out different voices?"
The man rubbed his face and looked at the friendly face of the policewoman. She looked like a nice, reasonable woman, the kind everybody would love to have as a neighbor. But looks could be deceiving, he knew, because underneath the friendly expression and keen eyes he could detect a sharp intelligence. This woman was probably someone to be reckoned with.
" As a matter of fact, I did," he finally answered, a hint of surprise in his voice.
" There was a male voice as well. He was shouting 'Bitch'. And I heard a girl's voice shouting to 'leave her alone'."
Trishia smiled at him and slowly nodded.
" Would you come to the station with us, sir, so we can take your statement?"
" Yes, of course," the man answered, feeling a little foolish for having obviously jumped to conclusions.
" What do we do with the girl, Trish?" Peter asked.
" If possible she will come with us," Trishia answered, motioning the paramedic to come closer. " Can you please make an assessment?"
The paramedic knelt down next to the young girl and put his hand on her shoulder. Immediately her body stiffened and her eyes shot open. When her blue eyes focussed on the stranger, everybody who was present saw the panic rise.
The paramedic was no rookie and years of riding the ambulance had given him a lot of insight into people's behavior. He responded by slowly but immediately removing his hand and adding a bit more distance between himself and the girl. It was clear to him the girl was frightened by the physical contact and he grimly thought of a few possible causes.
" I won't hurt you," he said in a friendly, soothing tone. " My name is Gary. I am a paramedic and I just want to make sure you are all right. Is that okay?"
The girl didn't answer, but the panic in her eyes slowly made way for caution. Her gaze involuntarily traveled to Joan McDonnell, who looked at her with a worried expression on her face.
" I am fine," the girl answered. " I think she...needs your help more. They hit her on the head."
Gary smiled and slowly nodded. He noticed the quick recovery and although the girl was still very pale, he decided that she was all right, at least for now. Getting back to his feet he looked from Trishia to Joan and raised an eyebrow.
" Take her to the hospital, Gary, " Trishia said. " That lump needs to be checked out."
Seeing that Joan was about to protest, Trishia raised her hand to silence the older woman.
" Joan, you need to have that looked at, really. I know you want to go home. I know you have plans for this evening, but please, humor me, okay? Have it checked out."
Joan realized that Trishia's request was a reasonable one, but still she was reluctant to go to the hospital, thinking that her injury was not that bad.
" What about my car?" she tried, which elicited a smile from the policewoman.
" My shift will end in a couple of hours. I will ask Lucy to come and get me, so we can pick up your car and park it in your driveway. We will give you a ride home from Jody's tonight. I'll call Jody and ask her to come to the hospital to pick you up."
Joan could not find any reason to object Trishia's proposal and she nodded in agreement, although reluctantly.
" Alright," she sighed, " but I don't like to be fussed over. What will happen to....what is your name, love?" she directed the question to the young girl.
The girl looked up through hooded eyes, but could not detect anything but kindness in Joan's face. Hesitantly her eyes traveled to Trishia and Peter, who were police officers, which automatically made them her enemy.
" I can't keep calling the one who saved me 'girl', now can I?" Joan gently teased.
" Alice," the girl whispered.
" I like that name," Joan smiled. " My mother's name was Alice and she was a great lady. I don't know how to thank you, Alice. I know those police officers will ask you a million questions, but don't mind them. It's their job. Basically they are nice people."
" Wow, thanks Joan," Trishia mumbled, not knowing whether to be annoyed or to laugh.
Joan McDonnell stepped closer to the girl, knowing not to touch her. But she needed to look the girl into her eyes.
" I mean it when I say I am so grateful, Alice. God knows what would have happened if you had not showed up. If there is anything I can do for you, just let me know, okay? " A small smile came to her face. " You know where I work."
Alice cast down her eyes and looked as uncomfortable as she felt. Emotions had become alien to her and she did not know how to respond to Joan's kind words.
" Thanks for the tucker," she finally whispered. " I mean....the food."
" You are most welcome, honey," Joan responded, fighting the urge to hug the girl and chase all her demons away. " Thank YOU."
Joan turned around and slowly walked towards the waiting ambulance. When she passed Trishia she put her hand on the taller woman's arm and looked up to her.
" I know better than to tell you how to do your job," she softly said. " I know you deal with runaways all the time, but believe me Trish, there is something about this kid. Please be gentle. And if there' anything I can do... "
" I will let you know," Trishia promised. " Now, go with Gary, get yourself checked out and I will call Jody. Okay? I will see you this evening."
" That's fine, honey," Joan responded. " Oh, and Trishia? Please feed the poor thing, I know she must be really hungry."
Jody lazily stretched her body and shamelessly yawned. Her jaws clamped shut when the phone rang for the second time in an hour and she quickly grabbed the ringing piece of electronics that was lying on the table next to her.
Her face brightened when she recognized the familiar voice on the other side, but quickly turned to worry when she heard the message.
" What? Is she alright?"
"No! Of course not. Sam is at the store, but I expect her back any moment. Of course we will pick her up. What hospital is it?"
" Sure...yeah...no worries, Trish.....Okay, we will see you later then. Bye."
Jody pushed back the reddish blond hair that threatened to fall into her green eyes and all traces of sleep were gone. She cast a look at the dog, who was sitting next to her, his alert brown eyes staring at her and obviously completely aware of her distress.
" It's okay, boy, " she soothed him, trying to calm her racing heart. " Somebody tried to mug my mom, but she is all right. We will have to go and pick her up. Where the heck is Sam?"
In answer to her question, Kurt suddenly jumped up and looked at the driveway. Jody could not see a car approaching, nor could she hear anything but the wind rustling through the trees and the clear sound of a whip-bird. But she had come to know their dog and she was aware of the fact that he knew somebody was approaching, long before she or Sam did. The fact that he was not barking told her it was Sam who was coming up the hill and she quickly ran inside to change into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
In the meantime Kurt sat on the verandah, like a statue, staring at the driveway with perked ears and alert eyes.
To be continued in part 2
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