" Honey, please try to relax," Sam urged, extending her left hand to cover the fidgeting fingers of her lover who was sitting next to her in the car. " We will be at the hospital soon and you need to support your Mom, not drive her up the wall."
Jody sighed and clasped Sam's larger hand between her own smaller ones. Her lover was right, she needed to relax. But even though Trishia had assured her that her Mom was all right and the injury did not seem to be serious, Jody needed to see that for herself, before she could relax.
" I am sorry," she mumbled. " But Mom has gone through so much already this past year. It's about time she got a break, don't you think?"
" I totally agree, love," Sam answered, trying to keep her attention on the road in front of her. " But don't forget your Mom is a spunky lady. She has been through worse."
" Yeah, " Jody answered absently, remembering the courage her Mother had displayed when she decided to file a complaint against her husband for domestic violence.
When David McDonnell had been summoned to make an appearance at the police station, all hell had broken lose. He had raved and ranted and accused his wife of turning their children away from him. It had taken three police officers to keep the big man in his chair.
Trishia, who had been there at the moment, had finally lost her patience and had walked up to the red faced man and had stood in front of him looking him straight into his eyes.
In no uncertain terms she had told him that if he did not stop shouting and insulting his wife, she would haul his ass to the lockup and leave him there with the big, bad boys, until her ears had stopped ringing from the abuse.
David had immediately closed his mouth, but had stared at the policewoman with a murderous glare. They immediately, profoundly disliked each other. And the fact that Trishia was a woman filled David McDonnell with even more contempt, which was clearly visible on his still red and puffy face.
During the ordeal Jody and Lucy had been standing beside their Mother, offering the shaking woman all the support they could give her. And when it was finally over and they were allowed to leave, Joan McDonnell had turned around at the door, looking at her husband with a hurt, but determined look.
" Oh, and David? I will file for a divorce."
Jody's mouth had fallen open, while Lucy had tried to hide a smirk.
" Woo hoo, way to go, Mom, " she had whispered. " That just blew him away completely."
Jody smiled when she remembered the look on her Mother's face that day, determined, but scared. Nervous, but confident. She had been so proud of her. Once they had arrived outside, their Mom had broken down, shaking and crying uncontrollably. But even in between sobs, she had managed to reassure her daughters that she had thought a lot about divorcing their father and she would go through with it. And she had.
Lucy's boss had recommended an attorney who had specialized in divorces and within a few months, the official divorce had been a fact. To Joan it had been a scary time. She and David had been married for over thirty years and all of a sudden she had to stand on her own two feet, which was not easy, because David had always been the one who made the decisions. The fact that her youngest son, Michael had chosen to live with their father had been difficult. But deep down inside Joan was grateful that David would not be alone, since Fiona had been very clear in expressing her desire to live with her mother. Michael made sure to visit his mother every week, while it was almost impossible for Joan to talk Fiona into seeing her father. Of course her ex-husband made sure to blame Joan for setting his daughter up against him. Until one day, Fiona confronted her father with her anger about him disowning Jody. After he had made a few rude comments about Jody and Sam's relationship, Fiona had become furious. In no uncertain terms she had told him that if she had to take sides, he would always lose, because she would not accept her sister to be treated like a leper. And if he did not recognize true love when it was shoved into his face, he should seriously wonder if he had ever understood the message in his precious bible.
The result of that outburst was David McDonnell dropping off his youngest daughter at her mother's place only two hours after Fiona had arrived at his'.
When Joan had heard Fiona's side of the story, she had concluded her youngest daughter had every right to refuse to see her father and ever since that day, she had never again forced the issue of visiting.
" What's that smile for?" Sam curiously inquired, casting a look aside.
" Mom," Jody answered. " She must be the strongest person I know."
" And I am so grateful that you are just like her," Sam smiled. " Strong, kind, smart, compassionate, with a heart so big, the whole world could fit in."
" Nah, " Jody sighed. " Well, yes, that's my Mom, but I don't think I am as compassionate as she is, honey."
" I dare to disagree," Sam gently objected. " But that's okay, as long as I know it's true."
Jody laughed and lovingly squeezed Sam's thigh, resting her hand on the taller woman's leg to trace small patterns on the cotton covered skin.
" If you are trying to distract me, you are doing good job, " Sam mumbled, acknowledging her body's reaction to the soft touches.
" It still amazes me how responsive you are," Jody mused, her green eyes drinking in the profile of the woman next to her.
" Only to your touch, baby," Sam answered, after swallowing hard.
" I sure hope so," Jody chuckled, grabbing Sam's left hand and bringing it up to quickly press a kiss against the warm skin.
" There's always only been one for me," Sam simply stated. " You know that."
" I know," Jody whispered. " And that is such a humbling thought. I love you, Samantha Stevens."
" And I love you, Jody McDonnell Stevens," Sam smiled.
"It still boggles my mind that, according to Dutch law, I am your legally wedded wife," Jody mused, looking at the gold band around her ring finger on her right hand. " I wish that could be true for every country."
" That would be great,"Sam agreed. " But there is still a long, long way to go, before that happens, if it ever happens."
" Well, one can always hope," Jody sighed, while Sam steered the car into a parking spot in front of the hospital.
They looked at each other and smiled, feeling the bond they shared wrap around their souls like a warm blanket.
" I want to kiss you," Jody whispered.
" I would never say no' to that, Mrs. Stevens," Sam answered, while her blue eyes were sparkling.
She leaned towards the smaller woman and captured her soft lips in a warm, slow and tender kiss, immediately feeling a pair of strong hands wrap around her neck. Being in the car was not exactly a comfortable position for the taller woman, but Sam didn't care. The only thing she was aware of, were Jody's responsive lips and the intense love her partner radiated.
A loud knock on the window almost made them jump and quickly they broke apart.
" What the...." Jody started, slightly dazed and when she saw who had been interrupting their private moment, she sighed in resignation.
" I should have known, " she chuckled wryly, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the door.
" Hey, Freckles," she greeted her sister. " Trish called you as well, huh?"
" Of course she did," Lucy McDonnell answered, giving her older sister a quick kiss on the cheek. " She probably knew that the two of you would end up making out in a public place, getting arrested in the process and forgetting all about Mom."
Sam grinned and patted her sister-in-law on the back.
" Do they have medication for that yet?" she asked, feigning innocence.
" For what?" Lucy asked, taking the bait.
" Mouth diarrhea?"
" Oh, har har," Lucy snorted, while Jody laughed. " It's only because you are my sister's wife, otherwise I would turn Trish on you."
" If you two are done with your declarations of love, I would like to go in and see Mom," Jody stated, heading for the entrance.
Lucy and Sam exchanged amused looks and quickly followed the smaller redhead inside the hospital.
It didn't take them long to locate Joan. A very friendly and helpful nurse showed them the room she was in, telling them it was all right to go in and stay with their Mother.
" Mom," Jody greeted the older woman, carefully wrapping her arms around the slender frame, careful not to hurt her.
" Hi, honey," Joan smiled, pulling Jody in a hug. " It's good to see you girls."
" What happened, Mom?" Lucy asked, seating herself next to her Mother and grabbing her hand.
" I think the term is mugged' ," Joan dryly explained. " I was mugged in the parking garage."
" Damn," Sam cursed under her breath, her blue eyes darkening with anger. " How many times have I told the idiot who owns that place that he should get a security person in there and some camera's? Are you hurt badly, Joan?" Sam asked, the concern evident in her voice.
" Just a bump on the head and a bruise on my cheek. I guess I was lucky," Joan answered, not wanting her daughters to know she had a terrible headache. " And I still have my purse," she added with a smile.
" What happened?" Jody asked, who was not fooled by her mother's cheerful attitude. Her mother's face was pale and drawn and by the way she squinted her eyes, Jody could tell Joan's head was hurting.
" I didn't see much, " Joan sighed. " All I know is that I walked into the parking garage and just before I got to the car, somebody hit me in the head. I fell down and tried not to pass out. I felt somebody tugging on my purse, while somebody else pushed my face against the floor. But suddenly they let go of my purse and my head. I can't really tell what exactly happened, because I was still face down, but my attackers ran off. The next thing I know this girl was sitting next to me, but she was yanked away by a man, who thought she was the one who had attacked me. I guess she panicked, got herself free from his grip and dived under a car to hide."
" Whoa, Whoa, " Lucy exclaimed, raising a hand and shaking her hand. " You gotta run that by me again, Mom. The girl who attacked you was captured? That's great."
" No, honey," Joan tried to explain patiently, her voice soft and tired. " That girl chased the others away."
" Then why did she hide under a car?" Lucy asked with a puzzled look.
" Like I said, I didn't see it all happen, but the man who came running in and called the police, thought she had attacked me. So, he grabbed her, but...." Joan briefly closed her eyes. Even in her foggy state of mind she had noticed the sheer panic in Alice's eyes when the man had taken a hold of her.
" He must have scared her, I guess," she continued. " At that moment even I could tell she was frightened."
" But you didn't see your attackers," Sam reasoned. " So, how can you be sure this girl was not involved, Joan?"
" Because I....know her," Joan softly explained, seeing her daughters' eyes widen, " I think she is a runaway and over the last few days I have given her some food."
" Well, being a street kid..." Lucy started, but she was interrupted by her sister.
" Please, Luce, don't. Don't judge."
Jody turned back to her Mother and took both her hands in her own.
" You fed her?" she asked with a warm smile. " Mom, you are such a...sweetie!"
" There is something about that child, Jody," Joan mused. " I can't explain, but from the first moment I saw her I felt I needed to gain her trust, so maybe I could help her, in some way. She seemed so....lost," she ended with a whisper.
" Where is she now?" Sam asked, still trying to wrap her mind around Joan's story.
" Trishia and Peter took her to the police station. I have no idea what will happen to her now."
" All right....Alice, " Peter sighed for the umpteenth time. " I really would like to know your last name. That would make things so much easier....for both of us."
The blond teenager was sitting in a chair across from his desk and continued to stare at her worn down sneakers. Ever since Peter and Trishia had taken her with them, she had given them the silent treatment.
Peter rolled his eyes and spared a brief moment thinking at his own children. He had six month old twins and he could only hope and pray that they would never be faced with the problems this young teenager must have been through.
" Listen, Alice," his voice softened. " Let's forget about your last name for now, okay? You probably have a very good reason for not liking me and not wanting to talk to me, but I am a police officer and I have to stick to laws and rules. You were at the scene of a crime and I believe Mrs. McDonnell when she says you helped her. That was a very brave and unselfish thing to do. But because a crime was committed, I need to write a report on that. And I can only write that, when you tell me what happened."
Peter looked at the girl and even though her eyes were cast down and her long hair was obscuring her face, he could see the conflicting emotions warring beneath the surface.
A quick glance at his partner showed him that Trishia was listening to their every word and she smiled at him with an encouraging nod.
Finally, after a long silence, Alice lifted her head and looked at him. The look in her eyes was that of a trapped animal and Peter Jones realized he had to tread very carefully.
" I was in the park," Alice started, her voice barely audible. " The lady had given me some food and was walking to her car. I saw a guy and a girl follow her in and knew they were up to no good, so I went after them. They had knocked the lady to the ground and were trying to steal her purse."
Alice paused for a second and shrugged her shoulders.
" There was no one around so I jumped them," she dryly related. " The bloke fell and hit his head against a car. Then I wacked the girl and she was bleeding. When he got back up again, I think he wanted to punch me, but the big guy came in and they ran away. That's all."
" What happened after they ran?" Peter asked.
" Nothing," Alice whispered, hiding her face behind her hair again, but both Peter and Trishia saw the girl shiver.
" The man who grabbed you, what did he do?"
" I guess he thought I did it," Alice answered, her voice soft and emotionless. " But he was wrong."
" Yes, he was," Peter agreed.
" So, can I go now?" Alice suddenly asked casually.
Trishia who had been observing the girl, had expected this moment. She had dealt with more homeless children and runaways than she could remember, but deep down inside she had to agree with Joan: there was something about Alice....
" How old are you, Alice?" she asked, leaning her hip against Peter's desk and sipping from her coffee.
Immediately the hooded expression was back in the girl's eyes and she shot Trishia an angry look.
" I told you, I am eighteen."
Trishia slowly nodded and took another sip of coffee.
" Yeah, that's what you told us, but we both know you are not, Alice." She decided to change tactics. " Where can we contact you when we need to ask you some more questions?"
" I thought you were done," Alice said.
" Sure, for now," Trishia drawled. " But you never know what will pop up next. Besides, if we find those two who attacked Mrs. McDonnell, we would like you to identify them."
Alice bit her lip and even though she did not immediately respond, Trishia could see the anger and frustration radiating from the young girl. Inwardly she sighed. She felt sorry for the girl and it was obvious that Alice was enormously tense and scared. The tall police officer did not want to make the girl feel threatened, but Peter and she had to do their job. Besides, it was clear the girl was anything but eighteen and that made them responsible of handing her over to a social worker, even though Trishia knew from experience that the girl would possibly run away again at the first chance she got.
There were a lot of homeless people in Australia and from recent reports, Trishia knew that thirty-seven percent of them where younger than twenty-five years of age. And those were the ones that were registered as clients of the federation of Homelessness organizations. Most likely there were many more unregistered.
With a deep sigh she rubbed her face, realizing she was bone tired, really wanted to go home, have a nice, long shower and rinse away the sticky heat of the day.
She decided to grab the proverbial bull by its horns.
" You know we can't just let you go, Alice," she gently spoke. " You are underage."
" I did nothing wrong," Alice responded with a raised voice. When she looked at Trishia her eyes were blazing with anger, but she only met friendly understanding in the police officer's eyes. " You can't lock me up!!!"
" We are not going to lock you up," Trishia answered. " But you are too young to be on the streets on your own. We need to contact a social worker and have him or her find a place for you to stay. Unless you tell us your last name and we can contact your family."
" I will run away," Alice mumbled.
" I know," Trishia responded with a sigh.
" If you don't want to tell us your last name, could you, please, at least tell us where you are from?" Peter tried.
Alice shrugged her shoulders, while her fingers fidgeted with the hem of her t-shirt.
" I don't know," she answered.
" You don't know?" Peter echoed. " Alice, I...."
" I told you I don't know!!!" Alice screamed. " Now, why don't you leave me the hell alone?!"
Trishia and Peter exchanged glances and they both realised things were so much more complicated than they ever expected them to be.
" Okay, " Trishia started. " I believe you when you say you don't know, but Alice, do you have any idea why you don't know? You seem like a smart girl and I am sure you will understand that officer Jones here and myself, really want to know more about that."
Trishia could still vividly recall the way they had found the girl, tucked away under a car, rolled up into a ball, her eyes squeezed shut, slowly rocking back and forth. She started to believe something really traumatic must have happened to the girl.
" I don't know,"Alice whispered. " I....I don't remember."
Trishia shot her partner a look and he gave her a small nod. Unexpectedly he stood up to pour himself a cup of coffee, but when he came back he did not return to his chair. Instead he stood a few paces behind Alice, closely observing the girl's reaction.
Alice, who had been quietly sitting in her chair all the time the police officers had been talking to her, visibly stiffened. The fingers that had been twisting the hem of her shirt suddenly stilled and Trishia saw her nervously biting her lip.
She hated having to put the girl through this, but without having had the chance to talk to her partner, she knew they both suspected the same thing.
Peter stepped a little closer, careful to not enter the girl's private space.
" How come you don't remember, Alice?" he asked.
As soon as she heard his voice behind her, Alice jumped up, knocking the chair over and stepping away from him. When she turned around to face him, her hands were clenched into fists and her whole body was shaking.
Peter fought hard to control himself. Alice's reaction had only added to his suspicion and he mentally called himself a bastard for playing a trick on her, cursing at the ones who had damaged the girl so badly.
" How many times do I have to tell you I don't know?" Alice shouted, close to tears. " Leave me alone! Please, leave me alone."
With a sob that seemed to come from the deepest regions of her soul, Alice slowly sank to the floor, burying her face in her hands, while she fought hard to keep herself from breaking down completely.
Why didn't they understand? Why couldn't they leave her alone? She had done nothing wrong. All she had done was try to help somebody who had been kind to her. But to what price? She should have listened to the voice of reason and should not have interfered. She should have turned and walked away.
Alice's breathing hitched and she could feel the darkness creeping up on her. Images flashed before her eyes, like shredded pictures. Torturing her mind with impressions she could not understand. They tumbled through her head and made her want to scream out loud, but the only sound she could utter was a high pitched whimper, that slashed through the police officers souls like a hot, sharp knife.
" Om my God, sweet Jesus," Peter whispered, feeling the tears well up in his eyes. " Trishia, what on earth...."
He didn't finish his sentence, but impatiently wiped his eyes, feeling the urge to run outside and break things. But he knew he had to control himself. This girl needed help, somehow.
Trishia bit her lip and fought the urge to kneel beside the girl to comfort her. That would probably only scare her more. Mentally she quickly ticked off all her options, not liking a single one of them. How could they send a girl like that to a shelter, that was overcrowded and where the girl could not find any peace? She would immediately run again and the last thing Trishia wanted was Alice roaming the streets again.
From the corner of her eye she saw their inspector leaving her office and she decided to take a chance. With a few long strides she walked to the door and motioned Carol Wong over.
" What is going on here?" the petite woman asked curiously, looking at the whimpering girl, who was still sitting on the floor.
Trishia softly told her what had happened and shot the inspector a pleading, but determined look.
" I know it's against the rules, inspector," she started. " But look at her, we can't hand her over to social like this! She'll run before they can even blink their eyes."
" Is there an alternative, Trishia? " Carol Wong asked calmly. " I know it's tough, but we have no option."
" But you agree that she will probably be out there again in no time, right?"
" I guess so," the inspector answered, feeling that she would not like what she was about to hear.
" I might have an idea," Trishia stated. She saw that Carol Wong was about to comment on that and she quickly raised a hand, silencing the smaller woman. " Please, inspector, hear me out, okay?"
Carol Wong had always liked and respected Trishia Waters and she knew the police officer was a reliable, down to earth person, who usually would never even think about breaking rules or protocols. She was curious about the woman's plan and gave her a nod.
" Thanks! All right, this is what I have in mind....."
After she had been thoroughly checked out by one of the emergency physicians and after one of the nurses had carefully cleaned her face, Joan McDonnell had been released from the hospital. She had to promise the nurse to take it easy for a few days and to make sure that, when she was plagued by a persistent headache, to contact her family doctor immediately.
" It's a good thing there are hospitals and doctors," Joan had mumbled when she got inside Sam's car. " But do they really have to make such a fuss over nothing?"
Sam bit her lip and shot an amused glance in the rearview mirror. She did not like hospitals herself, having spent too much time there herself after her car accident as a teenager.
" I am just happy to know you have no serious injuries, Mom," Jody replied. " So stop complaining," she gently teased.
" Yes, Joan, she's right, " Sam added with a smile. " Besides, now you have the chance to be spoiled for a few days. Better milk that out for all that it's worth."
" I can't tell you how grateful I am for the two of you. But are you sure you want me and Fiona to stay until next week?"
" I am sure about you, not about Fiona," Sam chuckled. " The last time she stayed at our place, I had to drag her out of the pool in the middle of the night."
Jody grinned, remembering how she woke up around midnight, finding her partner missing from their bed. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes she had gotten up in search of Sam, wondering what her lover was doing up.
It had not taken her long to find the answer to her question. When she had entered the kitchen, Sam had stepped inside, dragging a bathing suit clad, dripping wet Fiona with her.
" Look what I found in the pool," Sam had exclaimed, looking at her sister-in-law as if she was from another planet. " I thought somebody was snooping around the house and when I went to check it out, your sweet little sister was star gazing from the water."
" Hey! It's a beautiful night out," Fiona had argued, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. " It's not a crime to enjoy God's creations, now is it?"
Joan smiled and slowly shook her head, full well knowing that her youngest daughter was a handful.
" I will tell her to leave her bathing suit home," she promised with a laugh.
" Oh, no!" Jody responded, turning around to look at her mother. " If you do that I am sure she will go skinny dipping and then Sam will wake me up in the middle of the night to fish my sister out of the pool. Uhuh, Mom. She can bring her stuff."
They all laughed, knowing that neither of them could stay angry long at the dark headed, smart teenager.
Jody's cell phone buzzed and pulling a face at a smirking Sam she retrieved it from her purse.
" Hi, Trishia!" she warmly greeted the person on the other side of the line. " Yes, we are on our way home and Luce should be there soon to pick you up...."
A little frown creased Jody's forehead when she intently listened to the other woman. She glanced aside to Sam, her eyes holding a serious expression.
" No, of course not, " she finally spoke. " I will ask her, just a moment, Trish."
Jody held the cell phone away from her ear and looked at Sam, who was manoeuvring the car through the Gold Coast traffic, while trying to listen to her partner at the same time.
" Trish asks if she can bring a guest this evening."
One of Sam's eyebrows shot under her curly hairline and she looked surprised.
" Lucy didn't mention that," she remarked.
" Because she doesn't know yet," Jody dryly answered, making Sam chuckle.
" Um...well, yes...of course, " Sam said. " The more the merrier. Anyone we know?"
Jody sucked in her bottom lip for a moment and shook her head.
" Nope, we don't." She cast a look at the woman in the backseat, who was looking at her with an expectant smile. " But Mom does."
To be continued in part 3
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