Richard’s footsteps slowed as he got closer to home. The task of informing Rachel about Carl’s condition weighed heavily on his mind. He felt bad enough without having to rehash the whole traumatic incident again with her.
Selfishly, Richard hoped that she would be gone for the night. That would at least buy him some time to pull himself together. Maybe one of her friends had already broken the news to her and he would be spared from having to do it. Rachel had friends all over the place. The news might already be travelling through the grapevine.
Soon, his mother’s house came into view. Richard squared his shoulders and approached quickly, letting himself in and bounding up the stairs before he could lose his nerve.
He knocked on her door and his heart sank when she told him to enter. Rachel’s eyes were red and swollen. For one hopeful moment, he thought she might have already received the news. Then her guilty expression jogged his memory. She started to speak and he waved away her words.
“Just listen, I have something to say and I want to get this out. I’m still bewildered and more than a little upset about what you did last night but that’s not important right now. I need to tell you something. Carl got shot in a drive by this evening.”
“What? Is he okay? Tell me he’s going to be okay!”
“I don’t know. I had to stay behind and talk to the cops.”
“Wait a minute, you mean you were there when it happened?”
“Unfortunately…I had just dropped off his car and he was about to give me a ride home when it happened.”
Rachel began to cry again and Richard held her against his chest, stroking her hair. He could hardly bear the crushing sense of guilt. This is all my fault! How could I have been so stupid? It’s one thing to put my life on the line. To get someone else shot…or…or killed is unacceptable. Lord, please don’t let that man die!
If he lives, I promise to make it up to him somehow. I should stop sniffing around that woman. Better for me to go home and stop making trouble…but I can’t just walk away. Ma needs my help. I can’t leave her high and dry.
I’ve got to be smart and keep my wits about me from here on out. I guess I just never realized how dangerous these people are. The question is, what are they up to that is so serious that they are willing to kill in order to keep it a secret?
Eventually, Rachel’s sobbing subsided. She pulled away and dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex. Richard forced himself to speak.
“I need to tell you something else. It’s my fault that Carl got shot.”
“What do you mean?”
“I went back to that warehouse we were at last night, to have a look around. It was a little chilly so I put on Carl’s jacket. I put on his cap to hide my face from the security cameras. They were cleaning the place out when I got there and went inside to get a closer look. Some of the men saw me and chased me.
I was able to lose them, so it seemed like the whole ordeal was over with. I never gave it a second thought when Carl put on the hat and jacket. I don’t know how they could have found me the next day. It was them though, I recognized the truck involved in the drive by.”
Richard stared down at his hands, waiting for one of Rachel’s patented temper tantrums. Her hug caught him off guard.
“Aren’t you mad at me?”
“After what I did to you last night, I don’t have the right to judge you. What you did was unintentional. Although I wasn’t trying to get you killed, I was trying to ruin things for you. I really am sorry Richard. There’s no excuse for me to behave so irresponsibly over hurt feelings.”
“Apology accepted. Please know that I wasn’t trying to upset you. You’re normally so blunt, it didn’t even occur to me that your relationships might be a touchy subject. I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings.”
“So, what do we do now?”
“Do you want to go to the hospital and check on Carl?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to make a bad situation worse with my presence. His mother hates me.”
“Carl is your friend. Surely she won’t object to you being there for him.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“If she’s going to be petty at a time like this then that’s her probem. I’ll go with you for moral support. C’mon, splash some cold water on your face and run a comb through your hair.”
Harriet emerged from her room as they were leaving. She was happy to see her brother, but he seemed preoccupied. Harriet followed them down the stairs to the living room, wanting a word with him.
She felt closer than ever to Richard after their last conversation. For the first time, Harriet felt like she could talk about something that had been troubling her for a long time. He started to leave and she reached out and grabbed his arm.
“You just got home. Where are you going now Richard?”
“I’m taking Rachel to the hospital. Carl has been shot.”
“Oh no, what happened?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Let me put my shoes on and I’ll go with you guys.”
“Nah, that’s okay Harriet. Things are bound to get a little…unpleasant. You’d better stay here.”
Richard absentmindedly patted her hand before gently freeing his arm and escorting Rachel out the door. Harriet moved to the window and watched them advance to the car, lost in some private conversation. Since when had the two of them been so close?
Harriet knew that she shouldn’t be jealous, but she couldn’t help it. Rachel always managed to become the center of attention. Half the men in town wanted her. Why did she have to monopolize Richard too?
Last night, the two of them had gone on some secret mission. Now, the two of them were off together again leaving Harriet behind like she was a bothersome child who would just get in their way.
Alone again…so what else is new? I finally worked up the nerve to tell someone about my problem and he can’t be bothered to listen. Maybe it’s for the best. I got myself into this mess and it’s up to me to get myself out. The problem is, I’ve got no idea where to start.
Harriet watched them pull off and suddenly realized that their absence at dinner meant that their mother would focus her criticisms on her. Desperate for a distraction from the sinking feeling in her gut, Harriet went up to Joshua’s room. She had to knock a couple of times before he heard her. He called out from his desk where he sat typing something up on his laptop.
“Come in, oh hey Harriet. What’s up?”
“Richard is taking Rachel to the hospital to see Carl. He got shot.”
“What? Is he going to be alright?”
“I don’t know. They were in too big of a hurry to fill me in on the details.”
“Maybe he’s in bad shape and Rachel wants to get there fast, in case he doesn’t make it.”
“You’re probably right. Although I must say, I was surprised that Richard took her instead of one of her friends. How come they’re spending so much time together all of a sudden?”
“Huh? I dunno…”
Harriet watched her brother type for a few moments. He always got absorbed in his work. Harriet knew she should leave him to it but he’d in his room nonstop since their mother had come home from the hospital.
If she didn’t pester him, then she wouldn’t get to talk to him at all. Harriet came up behind him and read over his shoulder until he twisted around in his seat and glared at her.
“Sorry Josh, it’s just that I’m a little bored with Richard gone. Where did he and Rachel go last night anyway? You picked him up right?”
“Yeah, somehow Rachel wound up riding along with him while he did some surveillance work and things went south. She got some dude all riled up and Richard had to step in.”
“So that’s how he got those stitches on his scalp. That’s what he gets for taking Rachel instead of me. Why didn’t he ask me? I would have gone with him. I really wish he would stop treating me like a little kid and respect the fact that I’m a woman.”
“Don’t get me started on disrespect. Do you know, Thomas hasn’t even tried to make things right with me? The man nearly gets my sister killed…”
“I don’t know about all that….”
“You know what I mean. The point is that he should have at least called or come by to make sure Rachel is okay. He owes me and her a serious apology.”
Before Harriet could answer, her cell phone vibrated silently in her pocket. She answered and spent a few tense moments listening before disconnecting the call.
Joshua sat mentally itemizing all of Thomas’ shortcomings, intent on continuing his rant as soon as she hung up. Her voice went in one ear and out his other ear as he typed. Joshua failed to notice the abrupt change in mood that came over his sister.
He didn’t look up from the laptop when she excused herself and said she’d be back later. Joshua continued typing for a few minutes before the difference in her tone of voice registered. Was she upset? Who was that anyway? Harriet doesn’t have any friends in town. He was about to call out to her when he heard the front door close. Joshua shrugged and kept typing.