“Are you doing this because you’re my grandfather now?” Noelle asked.
“No,” Seth said. “I’m doing this because I know what it’s like to be talented and on your own at a young age.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Noelle said. “My dad was only a little older than me when he was on his own.”
Noelle’s voice cracked on the words “his own.” She looked down to keep from crying.
“I was packaged off to music school when I was ten,” Seth said.
Noelle looked up at him.
“One moment I was fishing at City Park with my brothers and the next, my father was putting me on a non-stop bus,” Seth said. “I had no idea where I was going or why. I cried the entire way to New York. There are parts of that highway that are burned into my memory. I still can’t drive there and not remember being a little guy and on my own.”
“I was at the hospital and then suddenly I’m on this plane!” Noelle said.
“Like me,” Seth said.
Noelle sniffed at her sorrow. He held out his handkerchief and she looked at it.
“What do I do with that?” Noelle asked
“You wipe your tears, blow your nose, and thank me for the handkerchief,” Seth said.
“I’ll get it ooky,” Noelle said.
“That’s what they’re for,” Seth said. “I’ll get it laundered and it will be perfect again.”
“Won’t Maresol complain?” Noelle asked.
“Sure,” Seth smiled. “But not about cleaning a handkerchief.”
“Oh,” Noelle said.
She took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes. She looked at him and he touched his nose. She blew her nose.
“I’m really scared,” Noelle said.
“I’ll bet!” Seth said. “I was so scared I didn’t get up to pee the entire bus trip. In fact, I didn’t want to leave my seat. I was hoping the bus driver wouldn’t notice me there and I could go home.”
“Did he notice you?” Noelle asked.
“He did,” Seth said. “He found me in the back. I think he felt sorry for me because he took me to the bathroom and stayed with me until they came to pick me up.”
“Who came to pick you up?” Noelle asked.
“People from the school,” Seth said. “Sandy’s mom, my advisor, and the school President.”
“The school President?” Noelle asked.
“I’d already sold a piano symphony,” Seth said. “I was kind of a big deal.”
“Why did Andy come?” Noelle asked.
“Sandy’s mom?” Seth asked. “She was supposed to be my peer-mentor. She called me the ‘baby’ and swapped with me for my hunky roommate.”
“Did you love her right away?” Noelle asked.
“No,” Seth said. “She was kind of mean to me.”
“She was?” Noelle couldn’t imagine Sandy ever being mean to anyone. She looked surprised.
“She thought I was just a stupid kid,” Seth said. “Which I was.”
“I’m just a stupid kid,” Noelle said.
“Every kid is,” Seth said. “Goes with the territory.”
“I looked up this school on Nash’s phone and I’m supposed to sleep there,” Noelle said. “In the dorm! With some kid I don’t know!”
“You are,” Seth said. “But you’re not going to.”
“I’m not?” Noelle asked.
“You’re going to stay with Sissy at Bestat’s home,” Seth said.
“I don’t have to stay in a dorm with some kid I don’t know?” Noelle asked.
“No,” Seth said.
“How come?” Noelle asked.
“Because it sucks to be in a dorm room with some older kid,” Seth said.
“It was hard for you?” Noelle asked.
“Actually, my roommate took care of me,” Seth said. “He was a wonderful friend, almost a brother. He had a few younger brothers and sisters, so he knew how just be there for me.”
“Oh,” Noelle looked crestfallen. “Will I miss out on that if I don’t stay in the dorms?”
Noelle looked up from the book she was reading. Her arm had started to hurt again and it was time for her medication. The medication made her throwup, so she didn’t want to take it. Sandy wasn’t there to convince her to take it. Her dad wasn’t there to get it for her. Delphie wasn’t there either. Even Nash wasn’t there to bully her into taking her pills.
For the first time ever, Noelle was on her own.
Noelle sniffed back a tear and looked down at her novel. She could take her own medication. She could make her own way in the world. Her dad had been only a little older than she was right now when he returned home from school to find his parents gone.
Noelle swallowed hard and nodded to no one. She was on her own now.
The thought, combined with the airplane air, made her feel cold. Pulling the blanket around her, she managed to bump her arm wound. She gasped with pain. Sissy, who was asleep in a chair across the aisle from her, moved in her sleep but didn’t wake up.
“Are you all right?” Seth O’Malley asked.
Noelle nodded. She was more than a little intimidated by this man. Technically, since Sandy had become her mom, he was her grandfather.
“I’m okay, Mr. O’Malley,” Noelle said.
Mostly, he seemed like a scary old man. Noelle swallowed hard. He smiled, and Noelle realized he was actually movie star handsome. She blushed at her thought.
“My arm hurts,” Noelle said.
“I bet it does,” Seth said. He took a pill bottle from his pocket. “I believe you’re due two of these.”
“Oh, are you sure?”
Noelle wasn’t sure why she asked that question. She felt kind of dumb. He smiled.
“I’m sure,” he said. He looked at the bottle. “I bet these are making you sick to your stomach.”
“Makes my stomach hurt,” Noelle nodded.
“I know just the thing,” Seth said.
He walked down the aisle and talked to the woman at the front. She glanced at Noelle and went in the back. In a few minutes, Seth came back with a couple of pieces of buttered toast and a cup of strawberry preserves.
“Try this,” Seth said.
He gave her the toast and a cup of preserves. Noelle smiled because she liked toast and strawberry preserves. She tried to put the preserves on her toast, but her arm ached at the effort. He sat down in the chair in front of her and swiveled around to put the preserves on for her. She took a bite of her toast to try it. Finding it good, she ate quickly.
“Are you hungry?” Seth asked.
“I guess you just got out of the hospital,” Seth said.
“The food there is gross,” Noelle said. “I gave it to my brother.”
At the mention of Nash, an errant tear ran down Noelle’s face. She looked out the window of the plane to steady herself. She looked up when Seth got up. He went to the front and talked to the woman again. She nodded and looked at Noelle. He came back down the aisle.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Seth said.
“Okay,” Noelle said.
“I hate planes,” Seth said.
“You do?” Noelle asked. She was surprised because she knew he traveled a lot.
“I do,” Seth said.
“But why?” Noelle asked.
“I can’t explain it,” Seth said. “When I was a kid, regular people didn’t fly on planes.”
“You’re not really regular people,” Noelle said.
Embarrassed by her own sassy response, Noelle blushed.
“I’m not,” Seth said. “You’re right.”
“Are you doing this because you’re my grandfather now?” Noelle asked.
“I know,” Blane said. “I wish you were wrong, but as usual, you’re not. If you leave, I’ll be so worried about you that I won’t get better.”
“I need you,” Blane said.
“I need you to get well,” Heather said.
They fell silent while they thought.
“I have an idea,” Blane said. He thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, I think this will work.”
“What?” Heather asked.
“What if you …”
“No,” Heather shook her head. “No.”
“Hear me out,” Blane said.
Heather crossed her arms over her chest.
“What if you take Ivy and Tink and move into Sandy’s condo?” Blane asked. “We just need them to do something different. They’ll stop going to school and hanging out at the Castle or whatever.”
“Schmidty’s house,” Heather said.
“He had a big house in Crestmoor,” Heather said. “He’s in LA with Lizzie. The girls and I could live there and no one would ever notice. Mack could stay too.”
“Yeah, but you’d have to call Schmidty and we don’t know if everything is monitored,” Blane said.
“Your hospital room isn’t,” Heather said. “It goes through the hospital switchboard.”
Grinning, Blane pointed at Heather and nodded to her brilliance. He got up from his chair and shuffled over to the bed. Plopping on the bed, he picked up the phone.
“What’s the number?” Blane asked.
She gave him the number, and he dialed. She bit the cuticle on her thumb while he talked to Schmidty. Blane laughed and gave her the thumbs up. She watched him thank Schmidty. He rested for a moment on the bed and then hefted himself off the bed. He shuffled over to her.
“Turns out that one of his step-mom’s is a Deputy DA,” Blane said. “She’s talked to him about this case. In fact, she called him after Charlie was hurt and said that if he knew any of these girls, he should get them in hiding. She thinks there’s something funny going on in her department or maybe the police.”
“Something to do with why the kids are in danger,” Blane said. “Anyway, he’s going to call this step-mom. She’ll meet you and the kids at the house this evening. He also said they haven’t been home in a while. He has a service that cleans the house and fills the refrigerator. He’ll get the house ready for you.”
“Wow,” Heather said.
“He’s very wealthy,” Blane said. “And very happy.”
“You think it will work?” Heather asked.
“I think it’s a good plan,” Blane said.
“He said the house is surrounded by high walls and has great security,” Blane said. “It has to since he often entertains the celebrities he represents. Seth has the same security.”
“Sounds secure,” Heather said.
“It has cable and great snacks,” Blane smiled. “My guess is that you’ll love it.”
Heather nodded and looked down at her hands.
“I should probably …” She gestured to the door.
“Yeah,” Blane said.
She looked up at him. His face wore a bright smile but his eyes looked as scared as she felt. She smiled, told him she loved him, and left the room. With practiced determination, she walked out of the hospital. She was in her car before she let out a tiny sob.
“I can do this,” she said.
Nodding to herself, she drove to the Castle to get Tink and Ivy.
The plastic chair creaked as Heather collapsed around the baby in her abdomen. Her arms wrapped protectively around him and she stared off to the side.
“What is it?” Blane asked. He was sitting in the armchair across the glass wall that kept his room sterile.
“I’m scared,” Heather said. Her head tilted up so she could look at him. “Everything in my life is in flux.”
“I’m in the middle of treatment,” Blane said. “Tink is not yet our daughter and …”
“She has to go hide somewhere,” Heather said. “I’m ready to pop, but the baby’s not here yet.”
“Mack’s started the early child program at the Marlowe School,” Blane said.
“Which he loves,” Heather said.
“Everything is in flux.” Blane nodded.
“Scary,” Heather said. “Feels like everything in my life is up in the air.”
“And you’re just waiting for it to fall,” Blane said. “Yeah. I know that one.”
“I know you do,” Heather nodded.
“I wish I could hold you,” Blane said.
“I wish you could too,” Heather gave him a slight smile.
He nodded. Heather looked at her watch.
“Noelle and Sissy are leaving for the airport in a half hour,” Heather said.
“They’re flying to New York?” Blane asked.
“With Seth,” Heather said.
“Tink can’t go with them because Raz thinks that it’s dangerous to keep any of the girls together,” Heather said. “That way if they get caught, they only catch one.”
Heather swallowed hard.
“Like their deer or elk,” Heather said. “We don’t want the hunter to bag too many young girls at once.”
Blane eyes spoke his disgust at the entire thing.
“Maresol is sneaking Charlie out of the hospital in an hour or so,” Heather said. “He’ll go to Seth’s house here in Denver.”
“Is that safe?” Blane asked.
“They think so,” Heather said. “The problem is that Charlie’s still too sick to travel any real distance. He should be in the hospital for at least another few days. Seth’s house has a lot of security — video cameras, sensors, a staff of guards on call, stuff like that.”
“But is it safe?” Blane asked.
“No one really knows,” Heather said. “Are the kids being hunted or was the shooting a crime of opportunity? No one knows.”
“Because the police are being jerks,” Blane’s voice was sour and hard.
“No one knows because no one knows,” Heather said. “There are a lot of defendants in this case. Lots. People are so angry now. Its ease to think that people would just pop off.”
She shrugged and sat back. The last thing she wanted to do was upset him and affect his treatment. Seeing her assessing look, he nodded.
“I’m okay,” Blane said. He gave her a smile to convince her but Heather shook her head. “Nash and Teddy?”
“They’re staying with Alex,” Heather said. “They were already planning that for the weekend.”
“Full moon snowshoeing,” Blane said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“I know,” Heather said. “Maybe we can take the kids next winter.”
“I hope so,” Blane said.
“That leaves Tink and Ivy,” Heather said. “Bestat told Sandy that Delphie would know what to do, but Delphie just freaked out. She had no idea what to do. We thought Val could take Ivy, but Val’s new movie already has a bunch of press attention.”
“Hiding in plain sight,” Blane said.
“Or advertising your whereabouts to millions of people,” Heather said.
“Ivy’s aunt?” Blane asked.
“She’s ‘in country’, I think that’s what they call it,” Heather said. “Delphie can’t even get in touch with her. They told her that she could expect contact sometime next month.”
Blane shook his head.
“We’re avoiding talking about Tink,” Heather said.
“I think you should take her and go,” Blane repeated what he’d said before.
“I’m not leaving you,” Heather repeated her argument. “You need me here.”
“I’m just sitting here!” Blane raised his voice.
Heather’s eyes scanned his face. He looked angry, but she knew he was scared too.
“The girls are talking about heading out,” Heather said.
“I think Jill convinced them that the streets are the worst place possible for them,” Heather said. “But they’re scared too.”
“They want to control their situation,” Blane nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Aden can’t leave Lipson,” Heather said. “Jill has the twins. Tanesha has school.”
“Sandy’s in danger too,” Blane said.
“How’d you know?” Heather asked. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Just figures,” Blane said.
“My mom’s gone,” Heather said. “Yvonne has Jabari. Jill’s mom said she’d take Ivy but …”
“Ivy won’t go without Tink,” Blane said. “Right?”
“But it’s not safe to keep them together,” Blane said.
Sandy nodded and stood up from her rocking chair. When Bestat didn’t move from hers, Sandy sat back down.
“Do I need to accept my fate?” Sandy asked.
“What fate?” Bestat asked. “I’m sorry. I’m not helping you. I’m not good with questions. I either answer what people are actually asking but not saying, or I don’t understand the question. Either way, I’m not of much help.”
Sandy gave a slight smile.
“Have you ever seen Yvonne’s book?” Bestat asked.
“Yvonne’s book?” Sandy gave Bestat a vague look. “Uh …”
“I happen to have a copy of it,” Bestat said.
“Alex thought I might be able to put names to faces,” Bestat said. “I asked for the entire book and she gave it to me.”
Sandy scowled. She had the feeling Bestat wanted her to do something important but she couldn’t figure out what.
“If you find him, he cannot kill you or the children,” Bestat said.
Or at least Sandy thought Bestat had said it. When she looked at Bestat, it didn’t look like she’d said anything.
“Who?” Sandy asked.
“Why don’t we go and find out?” Bestat asked.
“And the kids?”
“All taken care of,” Bestat said. “My staff is already preparing for Sissy and Noelle. Your father is planning on taking them there tonight. I will meet them in New York.”
“But Zack’s other children!” Sandy said. “You can’t just leave them here!”
“Brittney and Sam?” Bestat’s face broke into a wide smile. “They are refreshingly flexible. Of course, I share mothering duties with Zack’s mother.”
“Um,” Sandy said. “What will they do?”
“They will come with me to New York.”
“They are home schooled,” Bestat said. “They were behind when their mother went to rehab. Because we live in many places, they’ve never gone back to traditional school. Their tutors travel with us. They are fluent in Arabic, Spanish, English, and are working on their French.”
“Nash has been studying Arabic,” Sandy said.
“With Teddy’s tutor,” Bestat said.
“Oh,” Sandy said. “Sorry.”
“We have a very complicated life,” Bestat said. “There’s no reason you should know all the details.”
Sandy gave an embarrassed nod.
“And Charlie?” Bestat touched Sandy’s arm to help her get back on track.
“Maresol’s taking Charlie from the hospital this afternoon during the nurse change over,” Sandy said. “Honey will help him get settled at Seth’s home.”
“Teddy and Nash were already planning to stay at Alex’s tonight,” Bestat said.
“Full moon snowshoeing,” Sandy said. “And Ivy?”
“Delphie will know what to do,” Bestat said.
“And me?” Sandy asked.
“With my help, you’re going to end this thing once and for all,” Bestat said.
Bestat stood up from her seat.
“Come,” Bestat ordered.
Unsure of what else to do, Sandy got up and followed Bestat into the house.
“And Charlie?” Bestat asked. “He is the one in the most danger.”
“Charlie will live with my father, um, I think you know him — Seth O’Malley?” Sandy asked.
“I know your father, Seth O’Malley,” Bestat smiled. “That’s a good idea. Charlie will have fun with them.”
“How might I help?” Bestat asked.
“Teddy has lived with us the last two summers,” Sandy said. “I’m wondering if Nash can stay with him, with you.”
“My son, Teddy, lives here at the house during the school year and with you in the summer,” Bestat said.
Sandy squinted her eyes. She wasn’t sure what Bestat was saying.
“I guess, I’m confused,” Bestat said.
“Nash needs a place to live and …” Sandy started.
“Noelle is in danger,” Bestat said. “Sissy too, correct?”
“Why don’t they live with me in New York?” Bestat asked. “I have a full staff there and an office at the consulate. We can make sure Sissy gets a good start at the ABT. Noelle can get settled in her program.”
“But …” Sandy started. She closed her mouth to keep from expressing her frustration.
“Nash, yes,” Bestat said. “As you know, Teddy and Nash are boys. They can live in sleeping bags on the floor of an unheated hut for a year and think that was cool.”
“Yes, but …” Sandy started.
“They can live with Alex,” Bestat said.
“With Alex?” Sandy asked. “I can’t … I mean …”
“Teddy loves it there,” Bestat said.
“Nash does too,” Sandy said. “They work the boys like dogs too. They have to do their homework, chores …”
“Workout,” Bestat said.
“No excuses,” Sandy said. She shook her head. “And they love it! I can’t get them to …”
“I can’t either,” Bestat said.
“Are you sure Alex wouldn’t mind?” Sandy asked.
“She has already offered,” Bestat said. “Those Irishmen need some help with their bakery.”
“Is that safe?” Sandy asked.
“They should be okay,” Bestat said. “You know almost everyone in the house fought in one war or another. They keep themselves safe, so the boys should be safe as well.”
Sandy cleared her throat and drank her lemonade.
“What is happening?” Bestat asked.
“You have it all figured out and …” Sandy started.
“Not really,” Bestat smiled.
Sandy looked at her.
“We want to help,” Bestat said. “That is all.”
“Thank you,” Sandy said.
“What about Ivy?” Bestat asked.
“What about her?” Sandy asked.
“They tried to shoot her as well,” Bestat said.
“Yes of course,” Bestat said. “She is the youngest of the girls. Her testimony carries the greatest penalty.”
“Colin Hargreaves was shot too,” Sandy said.
“He’s gone into hiding with his family,” Bestat said. “Art Rasmussen too.”
“Wow,” Sandy said.
“It must be done,” Bestat said.
“And Ivy?” Sandy asked.
“You won’t be able to keep her safe here,” Bestat said.
“I’ll talk to Delphie,” Sandy said.
They lapsed into silence. The gorgeous fountain’s gentle, burbling water seemed to scream at Sandy now. She watched the placid look on the woman’s face and wondered why her burdens seemed so light.
“You haven’t mentioned yourself,” Bestat said.
“Me?” Sandy asked.
“Much of what is going on revolves around what happened to you when you were a child,” Bestat said.
“No one’s tried to shoot me!” Sandy said.
“Yet,” Bestat said.
“I don’t have to testify,” Sandy said.
“Yet,” Bestat said.
“But …” Sandy felt her lip move in and out with her breath. She leaned forward. “What do I do?”
“About Ivy? Talk to Delphie,” Bestat shrugged. “She already has it in her mind. She just needs a nudge.”