Saturday, 12/21/2250 – By Rebecca Green.
The drive to Chicago was dead silent. Rhea didn’t even look at Adrian as she sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window. He looked at her every so often between keeping his eyes on the road, but he was unwilling to break the silence with an attempt at conversation. There was nothing he had a right to say to comfort her. He didn’t know her well enough, he didn’t know what to say that would help. Instead, he was doing the next best thing- taking her to her family who would know her infinitely better than he would for quite a long time.
When they pulled up to the hospital, he pulled up straight to the door, in the drop-off loop. She glanced at him in confusion before he explained.
“I think you should go up first.” He began, still speaking in that gentle tone. “This is your family, I don’t want to intrude.” Going up there, knowing that Natalie would be there too, and feeling as if this was his fault, no matter how little he could have stopped it, was much too difficult for him to bear. He’d much prefer to have the distraction of parking and heading up afterward.
After a moment, Rhea nodded, getting out of the car and heading for the doors. She stopped at the front desk and was relieved, at least, to hear that Lunette had been spared going to the ICU- after the trip to the emergency room, she had been stabilized enough to deserve an ordinary room.
Rhea headed up with numb legs, each step bringing her closer to what she couldn’t imagine facing. How could she look at Lunette, knowing that she was the one to get her niece’s father killed? That she’d caused whatever torment Veronica had bestowed on the girl?
She pushed the door open slowly and was met with a terrible sight. Her mother was sitting in a chair by the window, looking out at the foggy display. Natalie sat in a seat, pulled up right next to the bed and holding Lunette’s hand. The girl, only fourteen years of age, lay with her eyes closed, and Rhea blanched at the marks around her neck. Purple bruises, and Rhea knew they weren’t going to go away anytime soon. Veronica had tried to strangle her, then, and by the looks of it- she’d nearly succeeded.
Natalie jumped to her feet as the door opened and she saw Rhea, fury covering her face and a glare fixed on her sister-in-law.
“How dare you show your face around here after what happened, you bitch?” She hissed in a near shriek, quickly moving around the bed to stand between Rhea and her daughter. “She should have killed you instead,” Natalie spat, “Get out, and don’t ever come between me and my children again.”
Rhea flinched, her hands forming into fists as she stared back, unable to conjure up a glare and unable to contest Natalie’s blame. “I’m sorry.” She managed, looking away, “I never wanted this. I quit my job to protect you- I thought they would stop.” God, how wrong she had been.
“I don’t want to hear your apologies! They fix nothing, my husband is dead, my daughter injured and it’s your fault.” She jabbed a finger toward Rhea, “It’s all your fault!”
Rhea floundered, her arms crossing to hide how her hands shook. “You have to understand,” She pleaded, “He was my little brother. I’d never do anything to hurt him.” Rhea looked toward Lunette- the girl was awake, staring at the confrontation with reservations in her eyes, even fear. “I’m so sorry Lunette. I won’t let her get away with this- she won’t ever, ever hurt you again-”
Natalie took a step forward, interrupting her with a snarl, “Don’t address her! You no longer have any right! Do you know how close I came to losing her too? She wasn’t breathing, she was almost dead by the time I got to her!” Her eyes became glassy, breath ragged at the horrible image in her mind. “I don’t want you here- around me, around my children, ever again. Do you understand?”
“Please don’t cut me off.” Pleading still as she unwrapped her arms, “There was nothing I could do- I would have done anything.”
“Stop fighting.” Rhea looked over to see her mother now standing, her old eyes moving between her daughter and her daughter-in-law. “We’ve been through enough and this isn’t the time for quarrel. You’re scaring Lunette.” The girl in question was wide eyed, silent as she lay with her arms crossed and her nails digging into her skin. “Come with me, Rhea.” Deirdre gestured for Rhea to follow as she headed from the room, Natalie huffing behind her.
Rhea stiffened as the door closed and they were left in the hall. “Mom, I’m so sorry-”
Deirdre raised a hand. “You have nothing to be sorry for, there was nothing you could do.” Despite her words, there was a sadness in her eyes. “He wouldn’t want you to blame yourself.”
Rhea nodded, as unconvincing as it was. “Is Lunette still going to the school?”
“I don’t know, really. Natalie just wants the best for her daughter. Just like I want for you. Do you want to come back in and see her? I’ll hold Natalie off. Lunette needs to understand, or she won’t accept you.”
Deirdre smiled at her, turning back to open the door, interjecting as she did before Natalie could protest. “She’s just staying for a couple minutes.” The other woman huffed, but she was less willing to argue with her mother-in-law.
Rhea eyed Natalie warily before approaching Lunette, who shrunk back.
“Can you talk?” Rhea asked carefully and after a moment, Lunette opened her mouth.
“A little.” Her voice was hoarse and it seemed to hurt judging by how the girl winced. Natalie watched in suspicion, her eyes narrowing as Lunette displayed pain.
Rhea looked toward Deirdre, “When did this happen?”
“Around eleven last night. Natalie and I were out- we came back to see… “ The woman trailed off before swallowing and barreling on, “Jericho dead, he was stabbed in the heart in the living room. We saw the woman – Veronica – on top of Lunette, choking her with a scarf. She ran when she saw us. No one has seen her since.”
Rhea felt cold, knowing that around eleven last night she had been at the masquerade. Adrian had been whisking her away and she’d had her phone on silent. “Why didn’t someone find me?” She found herself asking, they could have called the school – a staff member would have found them.
“They tried.” Deirdre explained, “We thought you had been attacked too, but Rodney let us know you had shown up. Where were you last night?”
“I was- with Adrian.” She felt ashamed to say as much. “In the library. It’s big, they must have not been able to find us.” It was likely that they had called out only for Adrian and Rhea to have been asleep.
At the foot of the bed, Natalie suddenly cut in, her voice high and forced, “Adrian. Isn’t his last name Calver?”
Deirdre paled and Rhea looked between them in confusion. Deirdre took a step toward her, worry coating her face. “The woman who attacked Jericho- the police said her name was Veronica. Veronica Calver.”
“She’s his sister-” Rhea began to explain, but Natalie was shrieking at her again.
“You knew?” Her face outraged, “He’s her brother? How dare you- he could be just as dangerous as she is! He’s probably in cahoots with her-”
“What? No- he’s harmless, she tried to kill him too-”
Natalie steamrolled right over her. “He probably knew! You took him to our home. He- God, he knows where we live, he told her, I know it.”
Deirdre took another step forward, taking Rhea’s hand, “Rhea, you can’t get involved with him. We can’t trust him-”
There was a knock on the door and Rhea froze. Deirdre narrowed her eyes, “Who is that, Rhea?”
Rhea hesitated before insisting, “Adrian has nothing to do with Veronica. He hadn’t even seen her in five years, until the night she attacked me. He was there, she ran when she saw him- she tried to throw a knife at him! They aren’t working together, I know it.”
Natalie hissed, “Who’s at the door?” Knowing the answer without hearing it.
“He drove me here.” Rhea explained, “He’s probably just checking- look, you can’t blame him. I’m responsible for her attack, not him. Just being related to her doesn’t mean he would ever work with him.”
“Get out!” Natalie yelled, “Take your goddamn boyfriend and if he kills you, you’ll have deserved it. He’s not to be anywhere around my daughter.”
“You should go.” Deirdre said, her eyes set, “I don’t trust him, Rhea. Please be careful. I’ll let you know how Lunette is but you can’t be here if he is.”
Rhea looked between them, astounded. They’d met Adrian- the man was completely harmless. He couldn’t kill someone even if he wanted to, she couldn’t imagine him even helping someone else kill. He was genuine, Rhea had met enough phonies in her life to know when she met the real deal. There was another knock and Rhea glanced toward the door before finally relenting.
“Okay. I’ll go, but I know he has nothing to do with it… Get well soon, Lunette. I’ll find her, I swear.” Oh she would, she’d find Veronica and kill her in the worst ways Rhea knew how to kill. She wasn’t going to get away with hurting Rhea’s family. Rhea headed to the door, opening it and slipping out without allowing them to see Adrian, who stood on the other side, looking at her with a question in his eyes.
“C’mon, let’s go.” Rhea urged without further adieu, taking the man’s hand and dragging him down the hallway. Adrian sputtered, but he soon quieted, knowing better than to question judging by her mood. They made their way to the car and Rhea climbed in with a stone in her chest.