Evan picked Ken up from the hospital. They wouldn’t let him walk to the door, taking him in a wheel chair instead. Since the hospital said he wasn’t to drive, he refrained from protesting Evan’s presence at the wheel.
“You’ve got enough friends,” Evan grumbled, as he placed the flowers and plants in the back of the car.
Ken had been surprised to receive anything. Jim’s family had sent flowers, and the church family had sent a potted plant. He’d been even more surprised when Nanci and another cashier visited him and brought a small mirrored terrarium. He tried to joke, “Just one of the hazards of the pet business. You never know when your bettas will gang up on you.” But he could see how shocked they were over his appearance.
“You just get better,” Nanci had said. “We’ll call, and you can help from bed if we really get stuck.”
“I’ll try to get in by the end of the week. I know that report needs to be in,” he’d assured her. “And I’ll try not to scare the customers.”
That was yesterday around dinner time. Pastor Nat also came yesterday, but his mother and Evan had been there at that time also, and he didn’t have a chance to mention any of the things concerning him with Julie.
After Pastor Nat left his mother scolded Evan, which surprised Ken. Usually Evan was the babied one, and she excused him for everything. He expected Evan to blow up, but he just sat there and stared at the floor. Ken finally spoke. “It was an accident, Mom. I’m sure he didn’t mean to put me in the hospital.” Evan looked up at Ken in disbelief.
“Well, if he’d follow your example instead of trying so hard to follow his father, he’d be a lot better off.”
There it was again. But Ken let it go. His head hurt, and confrontations just made it worse. He asked for the nurse instead to see if she could give him more pain medicine, but it was too early. They realized he was hurting and left shortly after.
But today he rode home beside Evan in silence. The headache had dimmed, but they told him it’d be around for a few weeks. They also assured him that none of the damage to his face was permanent, except he may have a scar on his forehead where the stitches were. Evan stopped at the pharmacy Jim had recommended. Ken had been healthy and never used his health insurance. He tried not to think about deductibles and co-pays for an emergency room visit, various x-rays, and two nights in the hospital.
Ken went in to get his medicine, and then he let Evan drive him home. He was too tired to fight about it yet. He did say, “I’ll drive you to work later.”
“I have tonight off.”
Ken hesitated, but Evan handed him his keys. Ken put them in his pocket and went to the kitchen. His betta shelf was repaired. About half the jars still contained fish. The other jars were on the kitchen counter – the ones that weren’t broken. “I managed to get more of them back in jars, but the last ones just started dying. I guess they’d been out too long. I ran out of that bottled water and had to start using tap water. I hope that’s okay.”
“Did you de-chlorinate it?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Never mind. Some day if you’re interested… right now I’m going to rest.” What the fall hadn’t killed, chloramine had. But at least he had some left. “Where’s Finster?”
“He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”
Ken went to his room to rest. Evan had done his best to clean up, but it still hurt to lose so many fish. He wasn’t sure how many were breeders and how many were young fish for sale. He hadn’t had the courage to look further yet. It hurt to lose the breeders. Those were his pets more than any other fish he owned. Those all had names. And Finster had been with him the longest. It would have been amazing for a betta his age to have survived. It had been useless to hope.
Ken got up and ate the dinner Evan prepared for them. Ken said the blessing, and they began. Evan glanced up at Ken. “It’s all real, isn’t it?”
“All that Christian stuff. You really believe it don’t you.”
“Yeah. I believe it.”
“You try to live it too, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m not too good at it sometimes. Not like I wish I was. Not like some of the guys at church – like Jim.”
“Will you really forgive me?”
Ken stopped eating and studied Evan. “Yeah,” he said finally. “I think I can. I have a hard time with forgetting, but Jim says that’s two different things. I can’t forget, and I won’t stand back and let you harass Julie anymore. She’s got enough problems without you messing with her.”
“I won’t.” It wasn’t said defensively this time. It was a statement of intent.
That evening Ken started teaching Evan how to care for the aquariums. Evan had learned a little when they were younger, but it was so long ago that he didn’t remember it until he was reminded. Ken’s muscles were sore from the bruises, and exertion made his head pound. Evan did most of the work as Ken supervised a twenty percent water change on the tank that was scheduled for it. He also explained how he prepared his water. He inventoried his bettas afterward. He’d lost most of his double-tails.
It was almost midnight when Ken felt he better get back to sleep. A knock on the door stopped him from going to his room. Evan went to the door, and then opened it wide to admit someone.
“Julie,” Ken went to her immediately, and she hugged him, clinging to him for a moment.
Then Julie looked up into his face. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. Still sore, of course, but I’ll be okay. What about you?”
“I did what you said. I left. I shouldn’t stay in case they’re looking for me. I don’t want them to see my car here.” She pulled away from him. “I just needed to know if you’d watch my bettas while I’m gone.”
“I would, but I don’t think they’ll let me.”
“They’re in the car. I’ll get them.”
Ken followed her out and carried in one of the half full aquariums. He set it on the end table by the front door. “I’ll find a place later.” Ken took her hands when she set down her aquarium and kissed them. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. I’ll call you though. Do you know when the closing is?”
“Not yet. You better call the bank if you don’t want them to notify you at your office.” He kissed her fingers again. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, but at least I’ll be able to call without worrying about being overheard.” Julie turned toward the door. “I better go. They might check here.”
“Oh, Sweetheart.” She was so nervous, so afraid of being caught. Why couldn’t he protect her from this? Why couldn’t he make her feel safe? “I wish we were already married,” he whispered.
Her lips lifted into a trembling smile. “Don’t you want to wait until you feel a little better for our honeymoon?”
Ken kissed her fingers again and then her lips. “I’ll be waiting for your calls.” He followed her to her car and kissed her once more.
A car drove by, and she jumped, staring after it. “No. it wasn’t them.”
“Maybe we can meet somewhere they wouldn’t expect, and you’ll be able to relax.” He gave her another quick kiss. “Call me soon, okay?”
“Yes. Soon.” She started the car and left quickly.
Ken hated what they had done to her. He’d seen their over protectiveness first hand. She wasn’t being paranoid. Ken went back inside, glancing at Evan who hadn’t seemed to move at all while Julie was there. Evan still watched him, but Ken decided to ignore him. He looked around his place and tried to decide where to move the fish. Another knock sounded on the door. Ken opened it, expecting Julie had come back for some reason. He was surprised to see a police officer.
The man and his partner introduced themselves as Lt. Walt Redding and Lt. Yvonne Jaynes. “May we talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure.” Ken opened the screen and stepped back. Evan stiffened. Ken wished he’d relax. He looked guilty.
They noted Evan. “You’re Ken Wright and Evan Wright, correct?”
“Yes. Is something wrong? Mom or…?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Is this yours? Pretty fish.” Lt. Jaynes asked, noting the small aquarium with the green double-tail. She looked at the other.
“A friend’s. She just brought them over. I was about to move them to a safer spot. I raise Bettas. I have a few left from those spawns for sale.”
“We’re not here to buy. Did you know that the alarm went off at Hansen accounting an hour and a half ago?”
Ken shook his head. “No.” He started to have a suspicion about what had happened. “Julie Hansen was probably there. These are her fish. Like I said, she just brought them. She didn’t say anything about triggering the alarm though.”
“No. The security code was changed this afternoon. So Julie was here. Her mother is worried about her, and she claims the two of you have been stalking her. What happened to your face?”
“I hit him,” Evan said, coming forward. “It’s my fault. I also tried to get Julie to go out with me, but she loves Ken. It’s my fault, not his.”
“You did this to your brother?”
“I fell into a shelf during the disagreement and knocked everything on me. It was an accident. I believe there’s probably a 911 record of that Sunday night. I was a little out of it for that part.”
They accepted that. “We’re actually looking for Julie Hansen. Her mother suspects foul play.”
Ken shook his head. “Julie told me she needed to get away for a while. She wanted me to look after her fish because she didn’t know where she was going or for how long.”
“You’re saying you have no idea where she is.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Do you think she’ll contact you?”
“She said she would.”
Lt. Redding handed Ken a card. “If she calls, have her contact me, so we know she left voluntarily.”
Ken took the card. “Yes, it was voluntary. She believed her family was keeping unnecessary track of her whereabouts and were trying to cohere her into a marriage she didn’t want. When I went to see her I was accused of stalking and not allowed to talk to her. I believe her perceptions of the situation were correct. Frankly this merely confirms it.”
“You’re probably right, but we do have to check these things. Tell her to contact me just so we can lay this aside and deal with someone who’s really in trouble.”
“I’m hoping she’ll call tomorrow evening. When she does I’ll tell her.”
“Thanks for your time.” They left.
Evan stared at the door. “They didn’t arrest us? They didn’t even treat you like . . . They started to . . . Some of those questions were none of their business.”
Ken turned toward his room again. “It was their business. If someone actually was hurting Julie, I’d certainly want them to explore every aspect.”
“But they believed you!”
“I told the truth. It’s partly attitude, Evan. Treat people with respect, and most times they respond. You weren’t exactly showing your best side when you were caught. And remember, you were guilty. I wasn’t.”
“They must not know I’m on parole.”
“I’m sure they knew. If they talked to Katie Hansen and Thomas Randall I’m sure they heard things about us and our family we never knew or suspected. Besides all that’s on computer.”
“But . . . I even admitted . . . They didn’t do anything.”
“I think they suspected Katie Hansen was overreacting from the beginning. Besides who’d break into an accounting firm just to steal two small aquariums and not touch the computer equipment. Don’t worry about it.” Ken started from the room. “Oh, and thanks for standing up for me.”
Ken continued to his room. He knew that had been hard for Evan. He had taken any blame that may be there to take so that they’d take him instead of Ken. He really thought they were going to drag him away. Ken was starting to believe Evan was sincerely repentant.
“So you’re engaged now?”
Ken halted and turned slowly back to Evan. Had he judged too quickly? Hoped too much for reconciliation?
“You talked about marriage and your honeymoon. I just thought . . . .” Evan shrugged. “I’m glad she’s forgiven you.”
Ken knew he should let it go, but he couldn’t. “You’re not jealous.”
Evan hesitated. Instead of snapping back one of his cocky answers he turned to stare into the dwarf gourami tank. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “No one will ever love me like that. But I’m glad you can have it.”
“Evan . . . .” Ken remembered Evan had been jealous of everything he had, not just his relationship. That was just the only area he had felt able to compete. “I’m five years older. Give it time. I didn’t get anything right away. My job, my house, everything I’ve worked for and saved, and you can do it, too. You’ve just had to start a little later. And someday when you’re ready . . . who knows, you know. You can’t rush it.” Even as Ken said it, it didn’t appear Evan really believed him.
“Yeah, who knows.” Evan went to his room and closed the door. Ken went to his own room to sleep.
Julie drove back to the Owosso motel. She actually slept the whole night through for a change. The next morning she called the bank to make sure that she would not be contacted. She’d take her messages through Ken.
Julie decided not to stay in one place. She’d take a real vacation and travel around. She drove west to Grand Rapids. It was a city she’d only been to a few times, so it was different enough to keep her curiosity. She indulged herself by dining at a fine restaurant and looking through the many book stores.
One store had nice leather study Bibles for sale. Julie had been wanting to give Ken something to show him her love. She was sure he probably already had a good Bible, but this particular study bible had only been available for a few years. It was endorsed by some of her favorite scholars. She bought it and requested that it be engraved with his name. It would be available by Friday at five. She splurged on a nice hotel and took her dinner as room service while she perused some of her new books.
It was ten thirty when she decided to call Ken. She hadn’t wanted to call too early, because she didn’t want to get stuck talking to Evan. There was no answer, so she left a short message. She tried back a half hour later. Ken answered the phone before the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hey, that was quick.”
“I was waiting for you. I’ve missed you.”
“And I’ve missed you. You were right, Ken. A vacation was exactly what I needed. I just wish you were with me. I slept soundly for the first time last night.”
“I wish I were with you, too. I’m glad it’s helping.” Ken was silent.
“What is it?”
“I just wondered . . . you did tell your mom you were going, didn’t you?”
“Did they hassle you? I’m so sorry. I told Grandma, and I left a note also. What did they say? What did you tell them?” The tension that had temporarily left her, returned in force.
“Hey, don’t worry. I just got a number for you to call. Got a pen?” When she did, he dictated it. “Ask for a Lt. Redding.”
“Lieutenant? This isn’t military, is it?”
“No. The police.” Ken said, cutting off her almost hysterical inner thoughts.
Police! It didn’t help to know that.
“It’s not serious. They just need to be reassured that you left voluntarily. I told them that, but of course, that would be better from you. It didn’t help that the accounting firm was broken into, and I have your two aquariums.”
“Broken into? Oh no? What was taken?”
“Just two aquariums. Julie, didn’t you notice anything different when you went to get the fish? Did the lock work the same as always?”
“No. Actually it wouldn’t. But I just kind of pounded it with the palm of my hand, and I got it open. It must have been stuck.”
“They changed the code.”
“But no alarm went off.” Julie protested. She was feeling sick again. She’d gotten Ken into all kinds of trouble.
“It must have somewhere. Just so you know next time.”
“Oh, Ken, I’m so sorry. I never would have hurt you on purpose. If I’d have known. . . . .” She was losing it again, she knew, but she couldn’t help it. She couldn’t do anything right anymore.
But then Ken’s voice intruded. “It’s all right, Sweetheart. Don’t worry. I think they know your mom is over reacting. Please. Hey . . . I’m not locked up yet, am I?” he teased.
“Oh, Ken. Maybe I should just go away so you’re not hurt . . . .”
“Whoa, stop, please. Don’t disappear from me. I love you. Let me help you through this, Julie.”
“I don’t want you hurt.”
“Julie, nothing would hurt me worse than to lose you now. Please, let me help you.”
“I need you, too. I’m so sorry, Ken.”
“Hey,” he said gently. “I thought we told each other to quit apologizing. Don’t you worry about me. In fact, Evan and I have been getting along better than we ever have.”
“Is he there now?”
“No. He’s at work. He’s got a job at Taco House – the night shift. He usually has to be in at either ten or eleven, sometimes midnight. If I’m gone when you call, I’ll be right back. I just have to take him in. So, tell me, Love, how did your day go?”
Julie relaxed as she told Ken about her experiences. She hadn’t wanted to let anyone know exactly where she was, but she ended up giving it away. If she couldn’t trust him, she couldn’t trust anyone.
Julie slept only half the night. The rest of the time she lay awake wondering what she should do to make sure Ken suffered no repercussions for her actions. She had planned to go on to Lake Michigan and drive north along the lake front, but she turned back east toward Flint. Inside the city limits she found a phone and dialed the number. Lt. Redding was not in yet, but she could leave her number. Julie said she’d try back. Instead she drove to the precinct, went in, and waited in the lobby until the officer came on duty.
“Aah. The missing Julie Hansen. Have you escaped your tormentors long enough to tell us your tragic tale?”
Julie was so shocked at the humor that it must have shown on her face.
“I’m sorry,” Lt. Redding said quickly. “Come. Sit down.” He led her to a desk. “Is this more serious than I’ve taken it?”
Julie recovered on the way to his desk. “No, Sir. It’s just that everyone usually believes my mother and Thomas.”
“Your grandmother said you were just on vacation, but her age and mental faculties were questioned.”
“Oh, no. That’s awful. Uncle Cal must do something.”
“That is, of course, out of our domain.”
“Yes, I know. But oh poor Grandma.”
“All I need from you is to know that you are not being held against your wishes, or that you feel any provable crime is being perpetrated against.”
“No. I’m fine.”
“And the Wright brothers have not harassed you.”
“No. In fact, Ken is . . . I love him.”
“I thought so. Another case of the Montagues and the Capulets.”
“Not quite, but I guess you could say that.
“By the way, I’ve read of their work. Great achievements in flight technology.”
Julie took a few seconds, and then laughed. “Oh, yeah. Sorry. Probably thinking of their cousins from South Carolina. Wilber and Orville.”
“Ah, yes. Wilber and Orville. Ken and Evan. Similar names. Well, is there a number I can reach you at if I have any questions?”
“I had hoped to travel around Michigan, maybe even Canada or Ohio or Chicago. I don’t really have reservations anywhere.”
“But you’ll be calling your boyfriend regularly? I’ll just leave a message with him if I really need to see you. Thanks for stopping in.”
“No problem.” Julie stood to leave.
“Oh, and Juliet,” Lt. Redding said, “Never give up hope. Romeo isn’t dead, and the family will just have to accept him. After all true love never fails.”
Julie smiled at the unexpected encouragement. “Thanks. I’ll remember that.” She wasn’t sure what she should do next, but Lt. Redding’s cheer had helped calm some of her nervousness. Her desire to leave town immediately wasn’t as strong. She wanted to see Ken. She drove past his house, but his car was not there.
A little more aimless driving took her past her home. She stopped since only her Grandmother’s car was in the drive.
“Julie!” Grandmother came to her quickly and hugged her. “You’re all right.”
“You knew I was, Grandma.”
“Yes. I knew, but they kept saying all these things. I started doubting. I wasn’t sure . . . .”
“Yes, Grandma. That’s exactly what has happened to me. I don’t know up from down sometimes. That’s why I have to get away. I just wanted to check with you while I was in town. Did you talk to Uncle Cal? He needs to know what’s going on.”
“Yes. He came over last night.” Grandma shook her head as Julie led them to the table. “Your mother is so convinced Thomas is right. Your Uncle wants her to leave.”
“He says it’s not good for me, and, oh Julie, he’s right. All those things just tear me up. I’m too old for this.”
Julie knew it was true. Things would have to change. She just wished there was some way to help her mother.
“She’ll be okay, Julie,” Grandma was saying. “She can get an apartment. And you and she still have your old house. She can wait until the renters leave.”
“Me and her? Uncle Cal wants me out, too, doesn’t he?”
Grandmother took her hands. “He didn’t say, Julie. I just meant that house was yours and hers since your father died. You can stay here.” She paused and then studied their hands together on the table. “I’d rather not live alone.”
“I’ll stay, at least until I marry,” Julie promised.
“But your fish . . . .”
“Don’t worry. I’ve worked it out. They’ll be out like I said in probably less than a month. I’d rather not give Mom and Thomas any more ammunition right now, so I won’t go into details. Please Grandma, pray for Mom. Thomas has got her so deceived.”
“Oh, I have been, Julie. I have been.”
Julie stayed for lunch, but the longer she stayed the more nervous she became. Finally Grandmother noticed. “You do need to go, Julie. I can see that. I hope it’s not too much longer.”
“I can’t take too long a vacation. Thomas may already have convinced Mom to fire me. And I’m blowing a bit of money on hotels.”
“There are other firms, Julie.” Her grandmother didn’t meet her eyes at the suggestion, perhaps feeling as guilty as Julie for disloyalty. “If Thomas stays, perhaps you’d be happier….”
“I’ll pray about that too, Grandma. I promise. I love you.” Julie hugged her tightly and then took off before her mother or Thomas could find her.
Go to Chapter 17
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.