Tim Speedle rubbed a hand over his forehead as he tramped through the halls of the crime lab, casting a glance at his watch, wondering if it was time to head home yet. His tired eyes hadn't managed to process the time when a snicker made him turn to the woman beside him, who seemed to be a lot more bright eyed and bushy tailed that he was. "What?" he asked, his question making her shake her head and laugh, her dark eyes dancing with mirth.
"You're dead on your feet Speed," Adele Sevilla told him frankly. "Go home."
He wished it was that simple, knew it wasn't. Yes, strictly speaking, he was on overtime, but what was new there? "I've got evidence to process…" he pointed out, and she waved her hand dismissively.
"H is gonna take most of that," she said. "And you're no good to anyone in this state."
"You're fine," he objected, wondering once again how that could be.
"I should be considering I'm working a split shift today." She craned her neck to look at the clock on the wall of the break room as they walked by, rolling her eyes. "I'm gonna be on till eight in the morning, and if I'm lucky I'll get a cat nap and a cup of coffee halfway through."
"Tough gig," Tim sympathised, finally reaching his destination, the layout room. He hadn't been kidding, he did have evidence to process, and he was playing a bargaining game with himself, wondering if it would wait for the morning, wondering if Horatio would kill him if he clocked off now. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad he realised; at least if he were dead, he could sleep.
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard Eric's voice, curious, shocked. "Speed, what are you doing here?"
Tim frowned, not liking the way that his friend was looking at him as if he was the last person he'd expected to see. Looking around the room pointedly, he held up the evidence he'd collected. "My job?" he suggested, and Eric shook his head.
"No man…didn't Calleigh call you?" Eric's demeanour had segued rapidly from shocked to concerned, and at the mention of Calleigh's name, Tim's heart skipped a beat. From the corner of his eye, he could see Sevilla take a step closer to him, her features shrouded in concern.
"Why would Calleigh call me?" he asked slowly, deliberately, wishing against all hope that he could ward off whatever was coming, because the one thing that he knew from the look on Eric's face was that it wasn't going to be good.
Eric shook his head. "Man, I'm sorry…if I'd known, I'd have called you myself…"
"Eric." Tim bit out the word, stopping the other man in his tracks. "What happened to Calleigh?"
"She got a phone call today," Eric told him after a long pause, or maybe time had just slowed down. "Speed, her father died."
Tim sucked in a sharp breath, feeling as if someone had punched him in the stomach, and the evidence bags fell to the table. "Shit," he breathed, running a hand through his hair, unsure what to do, what to say, what to think.
He felt Sevilla's hand on his elbow, looked down at her and felt momentarily reassured. Nothing ever seemed to phase the police detective, and while he could read worry clearly in her eyes, outwardly she was as calm as ever. "Tim, go," is all she said, and he looked at her, then at the evidence, then at Eric.
He didn't even get the sentence finished. "I'll deal with it," Delko ordered. "Just go."
He didn't have to tell him twice.
She didn't know how long she'd been sitting there, nor did she care. She barely remembered getting home, all her memories blurring from the moment she answered her cell phone. It had been an ordinary day up to them, she and Eric working a case together, and they were discussing the evidence in the break room when it happened. She hadn't recognised the number that flashed up, just knew that it was from Louisiana, and that alone was enough to have her excusing herself, going out into the hallway, away from Eric's ever attentive ears, to take the call. He'd made some quip about not wanting to hear her talking dirty with Speed, and she'd done her best to give him a withering look, but it had been hard when her heart was hammering in her chest and her hands were shaking.
She relaxed momentarily when she heard the voice on the other end of the line, a friendly voice from her past, one of the few. She would later realise that that moment of relaxation had been a mistake, that it only allowed the news that would follow to hit her even harder, like being hit by a brick when you were expecting a pebble.
She'd listened to the words as they stole her breath away, felt the walls that she'd built up so high around her past crumbling into dust, and she'd sagged against the wall as the full horror unfolded in front of her. Years of police work meant that the details flashed into full colour in her mind, stereo sound included, and it had been all she could do to stay upright. The voice had asked her gently if she was all right, and she remembered him asking her that question so many years ago; a lifetime ago, back when she was a different person. She'd simply replied, "I'll take care of things," before hanging up the phone, taking several deep breaths before she went back to Eric.
She hadn't thought that she'd done too good a job at pulling herself together, but it must have been worse than she'd thought, because while Eric glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, making some joke about her keeping her private life out of the office, that little glance rapidly turned into a piercing stare, his ready smile turning into a frown of worried concern. "Jesus, what's wrong?" he'd asked. "Are you ok? Is it Speed?"
His questions had come thick and fast, confusing her, and she'd shaken her head, one hand kneading her forehead, the other going to her hip. "No," she'd told him. "No Eric, Tim's fine..."
She'd narrowed her eyes, looking beyond him, seeing another man, a man she'd never see again. "My father died," she'd said simply, and his face had registered sympathy and dismay and a thousand other emotions all in a second.
"God Calleigh," he'd breathed, closing the distance between them, hand outstretched, heading right for her shoulder. "I'm so sorry…"
She'd seen the hand, had known what he was going to do, known that he meant well, but had also known that she couldn't let him. She'd stepped back, knowing that she hadn't kept the expression of pain off her face, purposely avoiding his hand, not able to bear the thought of him touching her. She'd seen the hurt in his eyes, the shock on his face, and she'd felt bad about it, but not bad enough to explain, to apologise.
Instead, she'd done what she'd said she'd do, she'd taken care of things, done what she needed to do. "I um…I think I need to…" She gestured over her shoulder, and Eric had nodded quickly.
"Go," he'd said. "I'll tell H." She'd nodded, had begun to move away when his voice calling her name had stopped her. She'd turned to look at her, her green eyes asking him silently what he wanted, and he'd shrugged. "If you need anything…"
His obvious concern was more threatening than his hand had been, and she'd just nodded, turning blindly and stumbling towards the door, pausing when she got there and taking another deep breath before making her way down the hall to the locker room.
From there on, it was a blur of road signs and phone calls and a soothing cup of herbal tea, and now here she was, sitting in her living room, perched on the edge of her couch, shoulders hunched, whole body wound tight as a spring. The setting sun shone directly in the windows, casting the room in a golden glow, the only source of light. The silence of the room was broken only by the ticking of the clock on the mantel and the beating of her heart, and she stared at the photograph that she was holding, her mind years away, trying to remember how things had been once upon a time, before everything had fallen apart.
The photograph was taken indoors, a handsome young man in a white T-shirt and blue jeans, his arm around a woman with long blonde hair and sparkling green eyes, a woman who was smiling up at him as if he'd hung the moon. The man was holding in his arms a little blonde haired girl, less than a year old, beaming at her, her cheeky smile for him alone. They were a young family clearly, but happy, looking as if they had the world in front of them, as if this picture was the first chapter in a long and happy family history.
This picture was one of the reasons why Calleigh was a good CSI. She'd known all her life how deceiving appearances could be.
She knew that the family here was never this happy again, maybe hadn't even been that happy then. That the mother, not yet twenty, was pregnant with her second child, that the father, the deputy sheriff of the town, older than his wife by a good ten years, was already starting to drink more than he should. The picture was taken reasonably close up; it didn't show the ragged state of the shotgun shack they were living in, didn't show how little money there was to spare.
This was one of the few pictures that Calleigh had of her childhood, because once the three boys had come along in quick succession, two years in between each of them, with the fourth and youngest brother coming along three years later, their mother hadn't been in state to care about recording her children's childhoods. Indeed, there were times when she barely seemed to remember that she had children at all. Her father meanwhile went from his job to the bar, only appearing at the house on sporadic occasions, even then reeking of liquor. Calleigh had thought that was normal, that everyone's mother and father were like hers. Then she went to school, and as she got older, she realised that that wasn't so. But she'd seen her parents hide what they were from the rest of the town, and always a quick study, she'd known what she'd had to do and had followed the family tradition like her daddy's good little girl. She learned that a quick mind, a ready smile and a good dash of Southern charm could go a long way with people, and when she reached her teenaged years, realised that a toss of her long blonde hair didn't hurt either, and no-one had ever seen the bruises, had ever questioned why she was as thin as she was, why she was allowed to stay out so late at night, why she kept a closer eye on her younger brothers than any other teenage girl ever would.
No-one ever had to tell her to cover up for her parents. She did it because she knew what would happen if she didn't, knew that she and her brothers would be taken from them. She didn't want that, neither did the boys. Because it didn't matter if Momma spun stories of the fabulous Duquesne family from one end of the day to the other, neglecting chores and cooking and basic hygiene. It didn't matter if Daddy came home drunk, didn't matter if he took the belt to one of the kids for some transgression, real or imagined. They were still her parents, still her family, and that meant something to her.
Besides, Daddy wasn't drunk all the time, and when he wasn't, he was the man in that photograph, the man who smiled at his little girl and worshipped the ground she walked on. He would help her with her homework, he would tell her about his work, and one of her favourite things to do as a child was to be allowed to clean his badge, dreaming of the day when she would wear one just like it. He'd taught her how to use a gun, how to respect it, praising her when she became a better shot than he was, beating the tar out of some guy who said that women shouldn't be let shoot a gun. She'd been appalled when he'd done that, but she'd told herself that it was because he was her father, and he was acting out of some old school Southern gentleman code of honour, protecting a lady's reputation and all that.
It had been weeks, months later when she'd remembered the colour of the man's skin, at the same time that a thousand other jigsaw pieces began slotting neatly into place.
It had been almost eleven years since she'd seen him, and they'd parted bitterly, Daddy's little girl a little girl no longer, and no longer Daddy's. He'd made that perfectly clear, and her last words had told anyone who broached the subject with her that she didn't care. She'd left that place, made a new life for herself, reinvented herself completely, and she'd never looked back. Not much anyhow.
Now she didn't have a choice.
The silence of the apartment was shattered by a key scraping in the lock, by the front door opening and a familiar voice calling out, "Calleigh? You here?"
She stood up slowly stiffly, noting the urgency in his voice, moving to the end of the couch, waiting for him to come into the room. She frowned when she saw him, her hand still clutching the picture, because he was carrying a holdall in his hand that he dropped by the door the second he saw her. "Are you ok?" was his first question as he came towards her, arms open, and she moved in the opposite direction, turning so that she wouldn't seen the same hurt in his face that she'd seen in Eric's.
"Who told you?" she asked flatly, going back to her perch on the couch, sinking into the same spot she'd left seconds earlier.
"Eric." His voice was gentler than she deserved, she knew that, and he stayed standing at the side of the couch, not making any moves towards her. "Sevilla and I got back to the lab, he met us in the layout room."
She frowned, something occurring to her for the first time. "I should've called you, shouldn't I?" she murmured, not looking at him. Because after all, he was her boyfriend, and he would have wanted to be there for her. Lord knows, she would have wanted to be there for him had the roles been reversed. "I'm sorry, I-"
"Hey, hey…" His soft chiding stopped her words, and he sounded a touch amused. But then, he often did when they were alone together and she was babbling on at a mile a minute. The moment was so normal that she almost wanted to scream, and nearly did. "Don't worry about that now." He took a step towards her, and when she didn't move, took one more. "What you got there?"
She looked down at the picture, a tiny smile appearing on her face despite herself. "Yesterday," she told him, tilting the picture in his direction, and he sat down beside her, the better to see it, leaving a good foot of space in between them.
"She looks like you," he observed in surprise, and she nodded, because she'd heard that every day for eighteen years.
"Strong Duquesne genes." He looked over at her sharply, her accent having deepened in unconscious mimicry of her mother, and she shrugged. "You know what families are like."
His lips quirked up in a bitter little smile. "Kind of," he told her, and she realised with a start that while she never spoke of her past, with good reason, nor did Tim. She wondered why that was, how they'd come to spend so much time together, become so much a part of one another's lives, without becoming a part of one another's yesterdays. The thought shocked her, and she almost missed him saying, "You were a beautiful baby."
She ducked her head, blushing, turning the photograph back towards her. "My parents' pride and joy," she said, unable to stop, "For a while at least," from coming out as well.
Tim frowned, and she could almost hear the thoughts, the questions, exploding in his head, but he didn't give voice to any of them. Instead he simply asked, "Want to talk about it?"
There was nothing she wanted to do more than to talk to him about it.
There was nothing she wanted to do less than talk to him about it.
She didn't know if she'd be able to handle eleven years of bottled up emotion, didn't know if she was that strong. Didn't know if he was. Didn't know if she could face finding out that she wasn't. Didn't know if she could face finding out that he wasn't either.
There didn't seem to be enough oxygen in the room suddenly, and she sucked in a shuddering breath, letting it out slowly, surprised to find that she was trembling from head to toe. She shook her head, barely able to meet his gaze, but trying. "Tim…" she managed to choke out. "I can't…I mean, I just…I…"
"Hey…babe, it's ok…" His arm stretched out across the back of the sofa behind her, but he didn't touch her, seeming to know instinctively that if he did, she'd shatter, and nothing and no-one would be able to put all the pieces back together again. "Whatever you need. OK? Whatever you need."
Her eyes flicked up to meet his, and she nodded once, slowly, closing her eyes before dropping her head, a sigh escaping her. "OK."
He opened his eyes slowly, blinking against the early morning sunlight coming in through the windows, bringing one hand up to rub at his eyes in an effort to clear away the cobwebs. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was, a couple more after that to remember what had brought him there, and when that happened, he turned his head to the side, expecting to see her lying there asleep, or wide awake, staring up at the ceiling.
Instead he saw an empty pillow, an empty space where she should have been lying.
He frowned, but realised that he shouldn't really have been surprised; after all, she'd tossed and turned for most of the night, as had he, worried about her. They'd lain side by side, not touching, unusual for a couple who usually slept wrapped in one another's arms, limbs and bodies intertwined. "Calleigh?" he called as he threw the covers off him, padding from the bedroom down the hall to the living room, expecting to be met by her voice calling to him, but meeting only silence. The couch was empty, as was the window seat, and a vague suspicion entered his mind, confirmed when he entered the kitchen, saw a piece of paper folded over and propped up against the coffee machine, which was already filled with coffee. His name was written on one side in familiar flowing script, and he didn't want to read it, didn't want to see what she'd written, but knew that he had to.
The note, as it happened, was short and to the point, two words. "I'm sorry."
He might have stared at it for hours, but in reality it was only seconds before the hand holding the note dropped to his side, his other rising to run through his hair. "Calleigh…" he whispered to himself, shaking his head, wondering why she'd done this, wondered why she hadn't been able to let him in, why she hadn't felt like she could talk to him. She'd been quiet the night before, but he'd taken that as shock, and she hadn't mentioned any arrangements to him, shaking her head in confusion when he'd asked her when she was going home, if she knew when the funeral would be held. He hadn't pressed her, had told her that everything would wait until the morning, and he'd convinced her to go to bed, sleep being as elusive for both of them as any criminal they'd ever tracked down. He could only have dropped off a couple of hours ago, but it had still been enough time for her to leave without waking him, and the thought came to him that she must have been packed already, because he knew for sure that he never would have slept through that, not the way that Calleigh packed for a trip.
Which meant that she must have had the flight booked yesterday.
Which meant that she'd lied to him.
He didn't want to dwell on that too much, didn't want to know what that might mean for them. All he wanted was to be with her, to support her, because he knew that she hadn't been home in all the time he'd known her, knew from little hints she'd dropped over the years, and last night especially, that there was a story there, something she wasn't telling him. He'd seen in her eyes that she was scared of going home, and his heart had ached for her.
It ached for her now, and in that split second, he made his decision, checking the clock as he reached for the phone. Punching in a number he knew by heart, he prayed that she'd pick up quickly, sending thanks to a God he wasn't sure he believed in when she did. "Sevilla," came the voice.
"Adele, it's Speed."
"Hey." If she was surprised to hear from him, she didn't sound it, continuing quickly, "How's Calleigh?"
"Gone," he answered simply, cutting back a rant about damnable Southern pride, because they probably didn't have time for it right now.
"What?" The normally unflappable Sevilla's voice rose sharply. "What do you mean she's gone?"
"I mean she sneaked out of here some time this morning without telling me…she's probably halfway to Darnell by now…however the hell you get there…"
Sevilla cut across him, cutting right to the chase. "Look, I'm still at work. I'll check the airlines, see what flight she's on. You get yourself to the airport, I'll call when I have news."
He sighed. "Yeah, that's what I hoped you'd say. Listen if you see Horatio-"
Once more, Sevilla interrupted him. "Hang on Speed, he's right here."
Tim winced, because he didn't really want to talk to Horatio right then. While his relationship with Calleigh was an open secret around the lab, it wasn't something that they advertised. Eric had been known to tease them about it, Alexx thought that it was sweet, and the only thing that Horatio had said about it had been purely hypothetical, back when they were just starting to see one another and people were talking about them. "Personally, I wouldn't care if two of my CSIs were seeing one another," he'd said, looking at the file in his hand, his tone casual. "Of course, officially, it'd be frowned upon by me… fraternisation and all that…you know how these things go." He'd said no more than that, but it hadn't been hard to read between the lines, and though Horatio knew what was going on, he'd never commented on it one way or another. Until today.
"Speed," he said tersely. "Delko told me about Calleigh's father. Is she ok?"
Tim rolled his eyes, safe in the knowledge that Horatio wouldn't know. "Not really," he replied simply. "Look, we're both-"
"Your cases have been reassigned, you're both down on compassionate leave, indefinitely. Make sure Calleigh knows that we're all thinking of her, and if she needs anything, she knows where we are."
Not having expected that, Tim nodded. "Thanks H." The older man hung up the phone then, leaving Tim standing in the kitchen, staring at the phone for a second before realising that he'd better get a move on. He dressed quickly, thanking his lucky stars that he'd swung by his place on the way here the previous night, throwing a few things that he might need into a bag. He pulled out a clean pair of blue jeans and a plain white shirt, far more conservative than his usual look he knew, but he didn't know who he'd be meeting, so he felt that it was better to be on the safe side. That done, he headed straight for his bike, getting on the road to the airport.
He was on his way into the terminal when his cell phone rang, Sevilla on the other end. "Speed, Calleigh caught Delta Flight 567 to Shreveport at 6.45 this morning. She's going to change planes in Atlanta, and expected landing time is 12.05pm."
Tim checked his watch; a couple of minutes before seven. "Shit," he exclaimed softly. "Just missed her."
"Don't panic," Sevilla hastened to reassure him. "I work miracles in my spare time. You're on American Airlines 831, leaving at 7.30, change of planes in Dallas Fort Worth, arriving in Shreveport at approximately 12.52pm. You can pay when you pick up your tickets; make sure you show your badge, I had to tell them it was police business to squeeze you in." Tim chuckled, the resourcefulness of the woman never ceasing to amaze him. "When I hang up this call, I'm calling the airport in Shreveport, there'll be a car waiting for you when you get there, and you can drive to Darnell. After that, it's up to you."
Tim breathed a sigh of relief. "Adele, I owe you one."
This time, it was Sevilla's turn to chuckle. "Just take care of her Tim. We'll call it even."
"Done," Tim said, hanging up the phone.
He managed to pick up his tickets and make it to the gate in record time, and it began to feel as if it was his lucky day when the flight actually took off on time, and made good time from Miami to Dallas. His luck held on the changeover, and when he got off the plane in Shreveport, it was one o'clock on the button. Sevilla was as good as her word, a car waiting for him, and finding a map in the glove box, he figured out where he was, where he was going, and off he went.
One hundred and forty odd miles later, he was driving in silence, having turned off the radio when he'd heard all the country music he could stand. It was actually working out better for him, because he was able to concentrate on his surroundings now that he wasn't contemplating ripping the damn thing out of the dashboard and throwing it out the window, thus he was able to see first hand the trappings of the city melt away, to be replaced by rolling green fields. The city of Monroe was a welcome return to familiarity, but beyond that the landscape became even more rural, and by the time he saw the sign welcoming him to Darnell, he was amazed that his Calleigh, someone who had always struck him as a big city girl, had come from a place like this.
He found what looked like the main street of the town easily enough, found a parking space and got out, looking around him. People were walking by, going about their business, the shops on either side of the road still doing business. He realised, not for the first time, that he didn't have a clue where to go or where Calleigh might be, and he was just trying to figure out what to do about that when inspiration struck in the form of a song that his grandmother used to sing when he was a child. It was something to do with wanting to know the time and asking a policeman, and he only hoped that it held true when it came to wanting to know where someone's home was.
He hastened to catch up to the tall man in the uniform, calling out, "Excuse me Officer-"
The other man turned, looked him up and down, and a friendly smile appeared, white teeth a stark contrast against his dark skin. "It's Deputy actually," he said, his accent like Calleigh's but more pronounced. "How may I help you Sir?" He may have been smiling, but his eyes were narrowed, suspicious, and his tone was cordial, but no more than that.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine," Tim told him, opening his wallet, extracting a picture. It showed him and Calleigh, arms around one another, laughing, the very picture of a happy couple. Eric had taken it one night they were all out together, celebrating the ending of some long arduous case; it had been one of the first times that they'd been out in public as a couple. "She's from here, and I'm pretty sure she's back in town. Calleigh Duquesne?"
"Don't reckon I know any-" The man's face only cleared when he took the photo from Tim, studying it closely. "Oh, Calleigh!" he said then, face lighting up in a real smile. "Man, all the times I've used that name, you think I'd be used to it by now." He grinned down at the picture, then back at Tim, serious again. "She's in town you say?"
Tim nodded. "She came up earlier today…I was trying to figure-"
The deputy was already moving away. "Well, she's not gonna be staying at the family place, that's for sure. She's probably at Violet's, that's the hotel…come on, I'll take you there. Be good to see that girl again." He stopped when he realised that Tim wasn't following him. "I'm sorry…look at my manners. I'm Mike Fletcher. Calleigh and I go way back."
He held out his hand and Tim took it. "Tim Speedle," he said. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," Mike replied, and the two men fell into step beside one another. "Though I will say I wish you were here under better circumstances. A terrible thing this."
His frown, his obvious concern brought it home to Tim that in her silence, in her shock last night, Calleigh had never told him how exactly her father had died. "Yeah-" he began, hoping to ask Mike that question, but before he could, Mike had stopped on the corner, waving to a building across the street.
"Here we are," he said, looking right and left, leading Tim towards a large white building the sign "Darnell Arms" hanging above its door. "Darnell's finest," he quipped as they entered.
Used to the opulence of hotels in Miami, Tim looked around him, finding the place clean and serviceable certainly, but undeniably quaint. A small counter stood to the left, chairs arranged around tables in the lobby, and across the way, another, larger room, with more tables and chairs, and an empty fireplace. Behind the desk was a woman who looked to be about seventy, her grey hair pulled back in a tight bun, her navy blue business suit draping impeccably on her slender frame. She stared at Mike, then at Tim, as if the two of them were gangsters about to rob the place, and Tim felt ridiculously as if he'd just walked into the local library with a book that was two months overdue.
"Deputy," she drawled, and for all her stern demeanour, her voice was smooth as honey. "How may I help you?"
"This gentleman's a friend of a friend Violet," Mike told her, indicating Tim with a wave of his hand. "Calleigh Hayes." The strange name had Tim looking at him sharply, but Violet was nodding in recognition. "She been here?"
"Child came in here about an hour ago," Violet replied with a sniff of pity. "Looked as if she'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, let me tell you. Asking if I had room for her. As if I'd turn that poor child away in her hour of need."
Tim wanted to ask her what she meant by that, but Mike beat him to it. "Which room?" he asked, glancing towards the stairs, but Violet shook her head.
"Won't do you any good Deputy, she's not there. Barrelled out of here about twenty minutes ago. Said something about going by the house." The soft exclamation that came from Mike's lips had her gasping in surprise. "Deputy! Such language!"
"Sorry Violet," he said dutifully, barely glancing at her as he turned to Tim. "We'd better go." Once again, Tim found himself trotting behind the taller man, who led him to a police car, opening the passenger door for him. "We'll take this," he said to Tim. "It'll be quicker."
To say that Tim was confused over this turn of events would be an understatement. "So, Calleigh going to her family's home is a bad thing?" he asked, and Mike shook his head. "Well, first of all, she's not gonna get into the main house. Crime scene boys from Monroe only finished up there early this morning." Tim's head whipped around sharply at the mention of the words "crime scene" but intent as he was on the road, Mike didn't notice. "The other boys I know aren't there right now, which means that the only welcome she's likely to get is from Joshua. That's the youngest. And she's not gonna get any kind of welcome from him." A bitter chuckle emerged from his throat. "He's his daddy's boy, in more than just looks."
Tim frowned. "How so?"
Mike took his eyes off the road for long enough to level a hard stare at Tim. "I take it Tim, that from that picture you showed me, you and Calleigh are more than just friends?"
"We're involved," was all Tim would say.
"Right. But I'm gonna bet that she's not told you much about her life here?" Mike's voice was a cross between amusement and concern, and Tim found himself giving him an honest answer.
"That'd be a safe bet."
Mike chuckled. "I figured." He shook his head, letting out a long breath. "Calleigh's daddy was the sheriff around here for about a hundred years, up until about ten years ago. He pretty much ran the place, thought he could do whatever he liked, and for a long time, he was right. People turned a blind eye to the fact that he gave his buddies preferential treatment, that he was a mite too fond of alcohol. What they eventually stopped turning a blind eye to was that he had a special problem when it came to African-Americans." He chuckled again. "Man, did he ever spit fire when I got this job...he's hated me ever since I was eighteen years old and he was threatening to run me out of town for defiling his little girl. Guy was a real mean son-of-a-bitch, with a nasty temper…" Mike's voice trailed off, lost in memory.
There were so many questions running through Tim's mind, but he concentrated on the most important one. "And Joshua is-?"
"Not gonna give Calleigh the welcome home she deserves, that's for sure," was Mike's terse assessment. "The Duquesne boys were wild, we always knew that. What else could they be growing up in a house like that? Calleigh practically raised them, as well as herself. But Joshua, he was only nine when she left for college, and the other three were more into looking out for themselves…" He pursed his lips in disgust. "Calleigh was too good for that house, plain and simple. Left home for college when she was eighteen and didn't ever look back, Can't say as I blame her either." He chuckled suddenly, teeth flashing white as something occurred to him. "Always knew she'd do well for herself…man, you should've known her back then…nothing ever got to her. She was completely fearless."
Thinking of the Calleigh that he'd seen every day in Miami over the last few years, Speed had to smile himself. "Still is," he murmured, looking out the window at the countryside rushing past. They were getting further and further away from town, and a knot of tension made itself known in Tim's stomach, getting tighter with each passing second. "I never knew any of this," he admitted quietly, and Mike shrugged.
"You were never meant to," he said calmly, more calmly than Tim would have thought possible considering the circumstances. "Girl left town, changed her name, did everything she could to leave this place behind her."
"But the past has a way of catching up with you," Tim murmured, as Mike swung off the road, pulling in to a driveway on the left. The first thing that Tim could see was a small wooden building, more of a shack than a house, on the right hand side, looking as if it was mere months away from falling apart, but bearing all the hallmarks of habitation. Right in front of them was a larger house, obviously the family home, not nearly as dilapidated as the shack, but not as neat as a pin as he would have expected either. There were steps leading up to the front porch, and at the top of them, his heart leaping at the sight, was Calleigh, standing and gesturing wildly in front of a man who was the image of the man who Tim had seen in Calleigh's photo the previous night.
Her back was to the road, and she didn't turn when they pulled up, nor when they stepped out. If the man with her, who Tim presumed was Joshua, noticed them, he didn't give any indication of it either. What he did do though was grab Calleigh's elbow, fairly propelling her down the stairs, giving her no chance to balance herself, though she was doing plenty of protesting. When she was on the bottom step, Joshua on the second from last, he gave her one last shove, sending her flying, ending up with her crashing hard on the ground. She stared up at him, not saying a word, and he climbed up the stairs, turning when he reached the front door. "Don't come here again," he said coldly, slamming the door behind him.
Tim barely heard Mike's muffled curse, standing rooted to his spot, unable to take his eyes away from Calleigh. He wanted to go to her, but he couldn't seem to make his feet move, and the only thought that was going through his mind was that if she hadn't wanted him to come here in the first place, then she definitely wouldn't want him to witness a moment like that. Mike didn't suffer from the same predicament though, going over to her, squatting down beside her, saying something to her that Tim couldn't hear. She might have said something back to Mike as he helped her up, but Mike did say something to her, looking over her shoulder, nodding his head towards Tim.
She turned slowly to look at him, and he found himself holding his breath, unsure of how she was going to react. Her face didn't change at first, she just stared at him as if she was having trouble believing that he was really there, and he found himself nodding at her, as if to reassure her. He saw her suck in a deep breath, then start to walk towards him. He stayed where he was, afraid that if he moved he would scare her somehow, upset her. Also, some little voice in the back of his mind was telling him that this had to come from Calleigh, that she had to do this herself.
So he stood still, barely breathing until she was standing right in front of him, just a step away. She stopped then, green eyes holding his, and he didn't blink, didn't flinch, just looked into her eyes. He only let himself breathe again when she closed the distance between them by leaping into his arms. He held her closely to him, arms tight around her, and closed his eyes as her head disappeared into the crook of his neck.
It was second before he realised that she was shaking, that she was whispering over and over again, "I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…"
"Hey," he told her, keeping his voice low, one hand running up and down her back, the other cupping the back of her head. "It's ok…it's gonna be ok."
Of course, he wasn't sure that it would be. He'd found out more about Calleigh in the last hour than he had in all the years he'd known her, and she evidently had more than enough family stuff to work through without dealing with him as well. But they were here, and they were together. That was a pretty good start.
There were nights when Calleigh found it hard to sleep; nights when the events of the day ran around her brain, when she couldn't stop thinking about the case, stop running permutations, stop trying to work out the pieces of the puzzle. Then there were the nights where it wasn't the events of that day, but of yesterday, that wouldn't stop running through her brain. Nights when her father's voice echoed in her ears, when the lash of his belt stung her skin, when her brothers' frightened cries and her mother's rambling made her toss and turn, as she wished that she could just make it all stop.
Nights like that, thankfully, were few and far between, and even fewer since she'd started sharing her bed with a man whose quiet strength made her feel confident, secure. A man who only had to take her in his arms to make the voices stop, to make the nightmares go away.
But not tonight, not after what she'd heard that day, not once she knew what she was going to do. He tried his best to be there for her, tried to listen to her, but she wouldn't talk to him about it, couldn't talk to him about it. She'd never told him about her past, and there were a number of excellent reasons for that. Chief among them was her fear that as far as he was concerned, she'd been born and bred in the cradle of Southern gentility. Every day, she saw him react to liars and cheats on the job; how was he going to react when he found out that she'd lied to him the entire time they'd been together, the entire time that she'd known him?
That fear, along with the ghosts of the past whispering, rather screaming, in her ears kept her awake all night, Tim lying beside her, more space between them than had ever been there before. She'd heard him breathing as he lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling, every so often turning his head to look at her back as she lay on her side, facing away from him. She was staring at the fluorescent red numbers on her alarm clock, watching the numbers edge their way towards morning, and it was almost four in the morning when she finally heard his breathing even out, and she knew that he'd fallen asleep.
She knew what time she had to be at the airport, what time she had to leave her apartment at, so she screwed her eyes shut tightly for a few precious minutes, trying to make herself believe that her world hadn't just fallen apart in the last twenty four hours, that things were normal, that she and Tim would wake in a few hours to make love before going to work, or spend a leisurely breakfast together.
She hadn't been able to make herself believe that though, any more than she could shake the nagging fear that nothing in her life was ever going to be the same again.
When the time had come, she'd slipped out of bed cautiously, dressed quietly and quickly, knowing that any noise, any sudden movement would wake him, and then there'd be a long round of explanations that she couldn't handle. She was all dressed and ready to go, literally ready to walk out the door when she paused, standing by the side of the bed, looking down at him. It wasn't the first time she'd done that, watched him sleeping, his face open and peaceful, a sight she didn't often see during the day. It was a sight the memory of which had been known to get her through the worst of days, and she filed it away now in the hopes that it would do just that. For the briefest of instants, she considered waking him, telling him what she was doing, begging him to come with her. She knew he would, knew that he was going to be furious when he woke up and found her gone, and her hand was actually outstretched, ready to be laid on his shoulder before she stopped herself, whirling around and leaving the room.
Once in the living room, she grabbed a pad from beside the phone, scribbling him a note, a short one, but she only had one thing to say.
She left it in the kitchen, taking a couple of seconds to fill the percolator with coffee for him, before going to the hall closet, where she'd hidden her packed suitcase the previous night before sitting down to wait for him on her couch. She got into her car and drove to the airport, praying the whole way that he'd be able to forgive her for what she'd just done.
She made it to the airport in record time, and she was lucky, her flight leaving on time as well. There was a slight delay in Atlanta, during which she felt the strangest urge to call Tim, even going as far as to take her cell phone out of her pocket, turn in on and key in his number. Her finger hovered over the button for a long time, but she couldn't make herself press it, couldn’t bring herself to make the call, and the decision was made for her when her flight was called. Despite the delay, they landed in Shreveport only fifteen minutes behind schedule. Her luck held, for good or bad, she wasn't sure, when she managed to get a rental car without waiting in a mammoth line, and before she knew it, she was on the road, following signs that she hadn't seen in a long time, and had never thought she'd see again.
All things considered, she thought she'd held herself together pretty well in the hours since she'd first stood in the lab with Eric, seeing the Louisiana number coming up on her cell phone display. She'd been shocked yes, upset, yes, but she hadn't fallen apart, not when she'd seen Tim, not even when she'd left him. It took the landscape becoming familiar, took her seeing sights that she'd grown up with to make her shake, to make her stomach swirl crazily. And when she reached the brightly coloured sign welcoming her to Darnell, she started shaking so badly that she had to pull the car off the road, getting out and leaning against the roof, taking in huge gulps of air, trying to bring herself under control. She was still trying when she turned violently away from the car, leaning over, everything she'd eaten over the last twenty-four hours - and Lord knows, that wasn't much - making a sudden reappearance.
Tears were smarting in her eyes when she straightened up, and she finally gave in to them, allowing them to roll unchecked down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around her stomach, sliding down the car to sit on the ground. She knew that she must look a sight, but at that moment, for the first time in her life, she didn't care what she looked like, didn't care what people thought of her. She was going back to a place she didn't want to be, where she had a feeling she wasn't going to be wanted, and the only person that could help soothe her frazzled nerves was eight hundred and twenty eight miles away, probably railing at her loudly to anyone who would listen.
That thought of Tim, unpleasant as it was, was what calmed her, as she closed her eyes, remembering what he looked like in the lab, when he was working on some experiment or other, eyes squinting in concentration; when they were alone in either one of their apartments, swapping stories of the day's events; how he looked when he slept, how he would hold her so tightly pressed against him. She could imagine the feel of his arms around her, and it banished the demons from her mind, as it always did, giving her the strength to stand up, to get back into the car and drive past that sign, heading straight into town.
Her family's home was on the opposite side of town, but she didn't want to go there just yet. She knew that the crime unit probably wouldn't be finished there yet, and while she knew that Joshua was living in the shack these days, she wasn't particularly keen to see her youngest brother, especially not before she'd had a chance to change her clothes, splash some cold water on her face, make herself a little more presentable. She found a parking space on the main street of the town, right outside the hotel, and that was her first port of call, barely managing to stifle a smile as she realised that it was just the same as she remembered it, right down to Violet sitting behind the reception desk. The woman still looked the same as she had eleven years ago, and Calleigh couldn't swear to it, but even her outfit looked the same.
If she recognised Violet, then it quickly became clear that the older woman recognised her as well, for her eyes lit up as she stood, palms of her hands flat on the desk. "Calleigh Hayes, as I live and breathe!" she exclaimed, and Calleigh managed a weak smile, the use of her old name - she refused to think of it as her real name; she hadn't been Calleigh Hayes in a long time - making her stomach roil again.
"Hello Violet," she said quietly. "I don't suppose you'd have a room free would you?"
Violet made a show of checking her book, but she hardly needed to; there were always rooms free in the Darnell Arms. "For you honey, I surely do," she said, looking back up, and the look of pity on her face made Calleigh bristle in spite of herself. "And might I just say how sorry I am for your troubles?"
"Thank you," Calleigh murmured, just about keeping her true feelings hidden. "I'm not really sure how long I'll be staying…"
"Oh honey, don't worry about that!" came the quick response. "You just settle up with me when you're leaving." Violet's eyes flicked to the door, then landed back on Calleigh, looking her up and down, lingering on her left hand. "Will you be on your own, or will…?"
Her voice trailed off as she raised an eyebrow, and Calleigh gave her a weak grin, the thought of Tim this time like a knife to her heart as she missed him all over again. "Just me Violet," she told her. "I don't mean to be rude, but it was quite a long trip…"
The none too subtle hint - too much hanging around Speedle she told herself - had the desired effect of having Violet rummaging at the wall of keys behind her, selecting one and handing it to Calleigh. She kept up a steady stream of chatter all the while, about how Calleigh only had to come to her if she had any problems, if there was anything the matter, but it all washed over Calleigh's head, and she made her way up the stairs to her room.
Preparations for meeting her family for the first time in eleven years were surprisingly quick; a cursory wash of her face, running a brush through her hair and changing her T-shirt were about it. Once again, she took out her cell phone, considered calling Tim, changing her mind as her finger hovered over the button. If she started talking to him, she'd fall apart and she'd never have the courage to do what needed to be done. Tossing the phone into her purse, she took a deep breath, heading downstairs, rushing through the lobby, waving at Violet as she walked. "You're going out?" Violet called after her, and she tossed back a response over her shoulder, not breaking stride.
"I'm going by the house."
She would be amazed when she drove that she was able to say it so casually, as if her hands weren't slick and shaking, as if her stomach wasn't turning. Those symptoms only increased as she drove through the town towards her childhood home, though a smile did come to her face as she drove past the water tower, now a dirty pale blue against a bright blue sky. It had been a dirty beige in her day, and she wondered if the local teenagers still used it as a hangout.
Her smile faded as she turned off the road, into the familiar driveway. The place hadn't changed much, though the shack where she'd been born looked even more ramshackle than it had eleven years ago. She could hardly believe that Joshua lived there, though she knew that if it was a choice between that and living in the house with just her parents, she'd have lived in far more primitive conditions. Indeed she remembered suddenly, she had.
There were no police cars in front of the house, no vehicles of any description, nor was there crime scene tape over the door, so she got out of the car, walking slowly towards the main house. She had to pause at the steps, take another deep breath before she could go up them, and she knocked against the frame of the open front door. "Hello?" she called out tentatively, wondering if there was anyone there at all. It wouldn't have been unusual for her family to go without unlocking their doors in the middle of the day even in this day and age; after all, Darnell Louisiana wasn't exactly a hotbed of crime, and even if it were, the chances of anyone in that house having the wherewithal to remember to lock the doors were pretty slim.
So she felt safe enough pushing the door open the rest of the way, stepping into the house, making her way into the living room. Her criminalist's mind kicked in the moment she entered the house, and she noted how dark it seemed, even in the middle of the day, didn't miss the peeling wallpaper, the thin layer of dust covering the furniture. She was struck by the silence, because this had never been a silent house, and also by the coppery smell in the air, a smell she knew all too well.
Upon closer inspection, the cabinets and tables in the living room were covered not with dust as she'd first thought, but with familiar looking black powder, and on the couch, a different colour to the one she remembered, but raggedy enough to be the one she remembered, there was a large crimson stain, already beginning to darken. The sight of it made her head spin, had her closing her eyes as a roaring filled her ears. It was so loud that she didn't hear footsteps approaching her, didn't realise that she was no longer alone until a hand clamped down on her shoulder.
She let out a tiny scream, whirling around in fright, not reassured in the least when she realised that she knew her companion. Flinty brown eyes, the eyes that had haunted her nightmares for years stared back at her, and the face that she was looking into was uncannily like the face that had stared out at her from the photograph she'd shown Tim the previous night. She swallowed hard as she looked at this ghost's face, willing herself not to pass out.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
The tone in which the words were uttered, the look of utter contempt on his face were the equivalent of a bucket of ice cold water, shocking Calleigh back into clarity. "Did you think I wouldn't come Joshua?" she asked mildly, keeping her emotions firmly in check.
Her youngest brother made a disgusted sound. "Frankly? Yes." Calleigh blinked, not at the words, but because of the wave of déjà vu that washed over her. He looked and sounded just like her father had the last time she'd talked to him. "Who called you anyway?"
Calleigh didn't even have to think about her response. "The Deputy Sheriff," she said, the title tripping easily off her tongue. If Joshua really was his father's son, and she had absolutely no doubt that he was, there was no way she was going to give him Mike's name. That would be roughly akin to pouring paraffin on the flames, something she was in no way eager to do.
If her father had been there, she knew what his response would have been, but Joshua had been a child during that particular fight, so his was mercifully different. "So what? You came to see how well we've been doing since you've been gone? To tell us that you missed us, and that's why you left and never came back?"
Calleigh winced at the anger in his voice, so different from the child that she'd hugged and kissed goodbye when she'd left for college. He hadn't wanted her to go, hadn't understood, and she'd lied to him through her tears, telling him that she'd be back soon for a visit. Her father had been standing in the kitchen, in full view of the family gathering in the hall, arms crossed over his chest and a face like thunder. Only a few months earlier, he'd been so proud of his little girl, prom queen and the first person in their family to be accepted to college. She remembered thinking that it was hard to believe that that was the same man who hadn't talked to her since the morning after her senior prom. "It wasn't like that Joshua," she told him now, shaking her head. "You don't know-"
"What don't I know Calleigh?" Joshua interrupted, his face flushing with fury. "What it was like living in this house? What it was like after you were gone? Daddy drinking more than ever, Momma sitting in the corner from one end of the day to the other, talking about her granny and the house she remembered visiting? Tiptoeing around the place, trying to avoid his belt, the four of us trying to hold things together while you were off living it up in New Orleans?" He broke off then, his fist smacking against the wall, and Calleigh flinched. "Don't tell me what I don’t know."
"It wasn't easy Joshua," she told him. "You think I wanted to leave you all in this house the way things were?"
"You sure didn't look like you minded when you got out of here," was Joshua's riposte. "You couldn't wait to leave that morning."
"Because I knew if I didn't get out of here as fast I could, I'd never be able to do it."
Tears rose up in Calleigh's throat, threatening to choke her, but they had no effect on Joshua. "I'm supposed to feel sorry for you? Just because you felt guilty about leaving us here with him? Hearing him go on and on about his little girl who up and deserted him, when he thought he'd raised her better? Watching him beat up Momma when he couldn't get to us, listening to her crying? I'm supposed to feel sorry for you, when you left?"
"Joshua, I had to-"
"You LEFT!" The shout echoed off the walls of the room, stopping Calleigh in her tracks. "You saw your chance and you left and you didn't look back and damn the rest of us. You think we're going to welcome you back now? You can go to hell Calleigh Hayes."
She shook her head, unable to believe that this was her little baby brother, the child she'd practically reared from when she was ten years old and her mother's mental condition had begun to deteriorate rapidly. It had killed Calleigh to leave him, but she was sure that the other three boys would have taken care of him, would have looked out for him. She'd never guessed that he'd end up hating her for leaving; she'd just presumed that he'd understand, that they all would. "Joshua," she whispered, but he didn't let her say anything, just grabbed her roughly by the elbow.
"We don't want you here," he told her as he manhandled her towards the door. "Why don't you go back to where you came from and stay there, huh?"
Memory surged up in Calleigh, another wave of déjà vu, and she tried to dislodge his grip, but he was strong, as strong as their father had been. "Joshua, please, listen to me…try to understand…" she pleaded. "I had to do it Joshua, you know I had to go…"
"All I know is that you abandoned us when we needed you," he told her angrily as they got out on to the front porch. "And if you think we need you now-"
"It's not like that-" she protested, but to no avail, because he didn't even pause for breath.
"-You've got another think coming. We got along fine without you for eleven years, we don't need you back here now." She was on the bottom step by now, he on the one above that, and he released her elbow suddenly, giving her a shove to boot and sending her stumbling back onto the grass, landing hard, winding herself. She only barely heard his last words. "Don't come here again." The next sound she heard was the slamming of the front door.
She was staring at the door in disbelief when someone came around in front of her, and she found herself looking up into a face that was unfamiliar at first, but once he smiled, the years melted away, and the face of the boy she'd taken to her Senior Prom hovered above her. There was unmistakable concern in his eyes, but he kept on smiling, reaching a hand down to her, quipping, "All these years and I'm still picking up you off the ground."
Any other time, she would have given him a pithy response, but she didn't have it in her right then, shaking her head instead. "The more things change," she responded weakly, allowing him to help her to her feet, dropping his hand the instant she was upright.
"Guess so," Mike observed, his hands going to his hips. "It's good to see you again Calleigh."
That did bring a genuine, if small, smile to her face. "Nice to know someone thinks so."
He nodded over her shoulder. "Oh, I reckon there's someone else gonna think so too," he said, his voice teasing, and Calleigh frowned, almost afraid to turn and look, but knowing that Mike wouldn't do anything to hurt her, wouldn’t let anyone else do anything to hurt her either. So, heart hammering in her ears, she turned.
For an instant, she was sure her eyes were playing tricks on her as she looked at the last piece of sanity in her life.
He was standing beside a police cruiser, dark eyes staring right at her, concern written all over his face. He was dressed more conservatively than she'd ever seen him, clean blue jeans and a white shirt, neatly tucked in with no T-shirt underneath, and in the back of her mind, she knew that he'd dressed like that on purpose, making himself look as respectable as possible for whomever he would meet here. As she looked at him, he nodded to her, as if to tell her that it really was him, that he really was there, and she drew in a deep breath as that knowledge settled into her mind, into her heart.
She was barely aware that she was moving, but she must have, because all of a sudden, she was in front of him, just a step away from him. They'd never broken eye contact since she'd first turned, not until she leaped into his arms, burying her face in his neck, closing her eyes tightly. He held her tightly, as if he was never going to let her go, and she hoped that he wouldn't, not ever again.
"I'm sorry," she found herself whispering over and over again. "I'm so sorry…"
What she was apologising for, she didn't know, because she didn't know where to start, but he just kept on holding her, telling her that it was all right, that everything was going to be ok, and for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, she let herself believe it.
It seemed like a long time, and still not long enough, before she straightened up, lifting her head to look at him again. "You're here," she whispered incredulously, and he smiled down at her.
"Like I'd be anywhere else," he responded, and she relaxed in his arms, his words and the look on his face combining to tell her that even if he was angry that she'd run out on him, he wasn't going to call her on it now.
"Thank you," she whispered, loosening her hold on him, and he took the hint, allowing her to step back, but one arm snaked protectively around her waist, with a firmness that dared her to break away from him. She had no intention of doing so however, leaning into his body as she turned to face Mike, who was standing looking at them, arms crossed, a grin on his face.
"Don't let me interrupt anything," he said, and just for a second, Calleigh was able to forget what had brought them all here.
"I take it you two have met?" she drawled, leading Tim over to Mike, Mike meeting them halfway.
"Found him wandering around town looking for you," Mike confirmed. "Violet told us you were coming out here."
"Lord bless Violet," Calleigh muttered wryly, for once grateful that the Darnell grapevine seemed to be in good working order. "And you came all the way out here to find me?"
The grin suddenly faltered on Mike's face, and he shifted on his feet, throwing a glance back towards the house. "I knew the reaction you'd likely get," he observed, but Calleigh knew him of old, knew he wasn't telling her the whole truth.
"That's not the whole story though, is it?" she demanded, her eyes narrowing. Tim's grip tightened almost imperceptibly on her waist, but she ignored his silent question. "What aren't you telling me?"
Mike sighed, looking once more over his shoulder. "The Sheriff asked me to come out here some time today, talk to you guys. I was gonna wait until you got here; Frank's coming in from Baton Rouge later on tonight, and Billy and Jeff are in Monroe right now, attending to the arrangements."
Calleigh nodded, grateful to know what her other brothers were doing, wondering if Billy and Jeff would be offended if she offered to help them. Then the first part of Mike's answer registered with her. "What did the Sheriff want you to tell us?" she asked, a terrible fear taking root in her heart, and the look of sympathy in Mike's eyes did nothing to reassure her.
"We got a call from the psych boys in Shreveport a couple hours ago," he sighed, and Calleigh straightened herself, waiting for the next blow.
"And?" she prompted when his pause was too long for her taste.
"I'm sorry Calleigh," he told her. "They've declared her not fit to stand trial…they've committed her."
She squeezed her eyes shut, sagging against Tim. She wasn't surprised as such, she'd certainly expected this, but that didn't make it any easier to deal with. Especially when Tim spoke. "What am I missing here? Who's not fit to stand trial?"
Calleigh opened her eyes and glanced over at Mike, whose face plainly told her that this one was up to her. "My mother," she said simply.
Tim frowned. "For what?" he asked.
Calleigh took a deep breath, knowing that there was no going back, no avoiding the answer. He had to know the truth, and he had to know it from her. "For killing my father."
The world seemed to rock ever so slightly around Tim as Calleigh's words registered with him, and he turned wide eyes on the woman in his arms. "Excuse me?" he asked, the words emerging from his lips without conscious thought, and when he saw her look down, saw the flash of pain in her eyes, he wished that he could take them back. "Babe, I'm sorry…"
"It's ok Tim," she told him quickly, one hand reaching up to pat his chest. "It's ok…I mean, it's pretty unbelievable." She shot Mike a quick glance out of the corner of her eye, and Tim followed her gaze, seeing curiosity and concern on the other man's face.
"Later, ok?" he said quietly, squeezing her waist, hoping that she'd understand what he wasn't saying, and when she nodded, giving him a tight smile, he knew that she did.
"Yeah," she breathed, before turning her gaze back to Mike, though she was leaning against Tim heavily. "I appreciate you telling me this Mike," she said, looking past him to the house. "Somehow, I don't think Joshua would have passed the message along."
Tim's jaw set at the mention of the name, once more seeing Calleigh sprawled on the ground, wishing that he could have a few minutes alone with Joshua to teach him some manners. Mike sighed, but didn't otherwise comment. "I should go in there…" he said instead, sounding reluctant to leave, and Tim felt a stab of jealousy despite himself. He chastised himself for being ridiculous, but the feeling only intensified when Mike continued with, "You should come for dinner tonight."
Tim looked down at Calleigh, saw her looking doubtfully up at him. "You're sure?" she asked, looking over at Mike. "Sally won't mind?"
Mike laughed out loud at that. "You kidding me? I come home and tell her you're in town and that I didn't ask you for dinner, I'm sleeping at the water tower tonight."
Tim didn't quite understand that, but Calleigh laughed, a joyous sound so at odd with the seriousness of the situation. "Wouldn't be the first time," she said, and Mike nodded as if in understanding.
"True. So, we'll see you tonight? About eight?"
Calleigh looked up at Tim again, her eyebrow raised in question, and he shrugged a shoulder, leaving the decision up to her. "We'd love to," she told him. "It's the old Camden place right?"
"Yep, can't miss it." Mike glanced over his shoulder, taking a step back. "I'll see you there."
With that, he was gone, and Calleigh turned, settling herself into Tim's embrace, resting her forehead against his chest. Her arms slipped around his waist, and he felt her exhale before she straightened, looking up into his eyes. "Can we go?" she pleaded, green eyes wide in a pale face, and he nodded, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair back behind her ears. Wordlessly he reached for her hand, leading her over to her rental car, holding his hand out for the keys when they got there. She grinned tiredly, handing them over, slipping into the passenger seat and closing her eyes.
She didn't say anything on the drive back into town, didn't even open her eyes until Tim parked the car as close to the hotel as he could manage. Still without a word, they walked down the street towards his car, where he grabbed his bag before they walked back to the hotel. He'd hoped that they would be able to go straight up to Calleigh's room, but he'd evidently reckoned without the eagle eyes of Violet at the reception desk. The second they walked in the door, she called to them. "Oh, I see you found her." Her eyes landed on Tim, stayed there, eyeing him up and down, lingering on their joined hands. "I take it you're going to be staying a spell?"
Calleigh squeezed Tim's hand, and he knew that if they weren't standing in front of Violet that she'd be rolling her eyes. "That's not going to be a problem, is it Violet?"
Her voice was sweet as could be, but it served to fluster Violet, as she nodded hurriedly. "Oh, no, of course not. I just…I didn't get your name Sir."
She was all politeness too, and before Calleigh could say anything, Tim leaped in. "My name is Tim Speedle ma'am," he said politely, not missing how Calleigh's head turned sharply in his direction, not that he could blame her. "I'm Calleigh's partner." Those words had Calleigh looking at him again, and he glanced down at her with a shrug before looking back at Violet.
The older woman was looking at him suspiciously. "And you let her come up here all on her own?" she asked disapprovingly.
Calleigh might have been gearing up to reply, but once again, Tim beat her to it. "I would have come, obviously." He wasn't sure if he was talking to Violet or to Calleigh, but either way worked fine for him. "But I had some work stuff to take care of…I'm sure you understand how it is, a businesswoman like yourself…"
He stopped abruptly as Calleigh's nails dug into his skin, but his charm offensive seemed to work on Violet, for she smiled at him, nodding. "Of course Mr Speedle…"
Violet practically simpered. "If there's anything you need…"
"Well, right now, I'd just love to get the road dust off me," he told her with a smile, before adding, "I'm sorry if that appears rude, but…"
"Not at all, not at all." By this stage, Violet was practically shooing them up the stairs. "Miami to Darnell, you need to recharge your batteries, not be talking to an old woman like me…"
"I'm sure we'll talk again," Tim said, as Calleigh practically dragged him towards the stairs, waiting until they'd rounded the corner on the first flight before she spoke.
"When did you get so obsequious?" she muttered, an amused little smile on her face, and he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
"Working with Horatio has its advantages," was his instinctive response, and she just shook her head, before leaning against him.
"This is us," she sighed, stopping in the middle of the hallway, reaching into her purse for the key, opening the door and stepping inside. She threw her purse on the dresser and he dropped his bag on the floor beside it, looking all around him as he did so. The room was fairly simple, a comfortable looking double bed in the middle, bedside tables with lamps on either side. There was a dresser across from that, and a wardrobe beside it, near to which was a door leading into the bathroom. In the middle of it all, right beside the bed, stood Calleigh, and while her mood had lightened during the conversation with Mike, and again after the conversation with Violet, now she looked drained again, eyes closed, arms wrapped around herself. As he stared at her, her shoulders rose and fell in a deep breath, and she opened her eyes to meet his. The lost look that he saw there broke his heart, had him stepping towards her without even having to think about it.
"C'mere," he whispered, pulling her into his arms, and she went willingly, wrapping her arms around his waist. His hands settled on her hips, holding her gently as he kissed the top of her head. He didn't know how long they were standing there before he shifted slightly, nodding towards the bed. "C'mon, let's get you lying down."
"I don't need to lie down," she protested, but he wouldn't let her get away with that.
"Maybe I do, you ever think of that?" he challenged, and she smiled up at him.
"OK then," she breathed, allowing him to lead her to the bed, where she kicked off her shoes, as did he, before lying down side by side, his arms around her, her head on his chest, right over his heart. He could feel her relax as he ran his fingers through her hair, and she murmured softly, "I can't believe you followed me all the way here."
He would have shrugged had he not been holding her. "I'd have followed you a lot further than that." He blinked when he heard how the words sounded, amending hastily, "That sounded a lot less crazed stalker-y in my head."
She chuckled, twisting against him and propping herself up against his chest, placed a kiss on his chin. "That's not what it sounded like," she told him firmly as she settled herself back down again. "It sounded sweet."
He didn't say anything about that, instead concentrating on some of the many questions he had. "You want to talk about this?"
She sighed. "I guess we really should."
She didn't sound too eager though and he frowned. "If you don't want to, that's ok," he told her. He'd known that he didn't know much about Calleigh's life before she'd come to Miami, but it was only in the last twenty-four hours that he'd learned just how little he truly did know. He knew now that she had her reasons for not discussing it with him, and he didn't want to cause her any additional pain now, much as he might want to find the answers to his questions. He was here for her, not the other way around. "It's whatever you need to do babe."
He didn't expect to hear her chuckle. "You said that to me last night too," she said quietly, and it took a second for him to realise what she meant, to remember their conversation of the previous night. "Seems like a lifetime ago," she continued, voicing his own thoughts.
"You don't have to tell me Cal," he murmured. "It's ok."
"No." Her voice was strong, and she raised herself up from his chest, scooting herself up on the bed slightly so that her face was level with his. She was lying on her side, and Tim turned so that he was on his side too, facing her, their arms still around one another. "I want to tell you Tim…" Her bravery seemed to falter for a moment, and she gave him a weak smile. "Though it may be the Reader's Digest version."
He ran a hand up her arm and back down so that it rested on her hip. "Whatever you need," he repeated.
With a nod and a deep breath, she began to speak, and he listened, not interrupting her, just letting her talk. She told him about her father, about growing up as the apple of his eye, about only seeing his good side, never his bad. About how it had felt to be seventeen, and to realise from the evidence of your own eyes, and the testimony of some of your closest friends, that your father was a racist. She told him about her mother, about what it was like to watch her slowly losing her mind, about the effect that had had on her brothers. Her voice faltered every now and again, trailing off on occasion, but her eyes never left his, and she never once cried, though he wouldn't have blamed her if she had. His jaw tensed when she spoke about Joshua, the baby of the family, because she tried to excuse his behaviour, behaviour that, to Tim, was inexcusable.
"I don't blame him, not really," she said. "After all, growing up there can't have been much fun. And he's right. I did leave."
"You had to," he told her quietly, lacing his fingers with her. "There was nothing else you could have done. You know that, right?"
She nodded, jaw clenched so tightly that he could hear her teeth grinding together, a thin film of tears shining in her eyes. "Yeah," she whispered. "But it doesn't stop it hurting." There was nothing he could say to that, so he just waited, trusting that she'd continue in her own time. "He wasn't even going to tell me about it," she told him quietly. "It was Mike who called me."
Pain raged in her eyes and Tim pressed himself just a little closer to her. "What happened?"
She swallowed hard. "The details appear to be a little sketchy. Best he could tell me was that Joshua was in the shack day before yesterday. Heard shouting, screaming, crashing. The usual. He didn't think anything of it, didn't go over. A few hours later, he heard gunshots. When he went to investigate, he found Daddy lying on the couch, dead, blood everywhere. And Momma, standing there, the gun in her hand. He called the Sheriff, who took things from there, and it was early yesterday afternoon before Mike realised that no-one had called me."
Tim shook his head, hardly able to believe that this had happened at all, or that she was being so calm about it all. "Calleigh…"
"She didn't say anything about it, about what she'd done or why…she just sat there. Didn't even cry. The Sheriff knew that Momma hasn't been 'quite herself' for a long time..." There was a bitter smile on Calleigh's lips when she spoke. "Lord knows, it's hardly a secret around the town, much as we've tried to hide it. They took her to Shreveport, to the hospital there, to examine her. She's still there I guess." She screwed her eyes shut tightly, and a single tear escaped, tracing a silver path down her cheek. "I hate to think of her in a place like that."
He reached up, brushing the tear away, surprised when she reached up, her cold hand finding his and holding it there. "I never wanted to come back here," she told him, her eyes still shut, as if she couldn’t say this when she was looking at him. "And I never wanted you to see any of this. I was so scared of what you'd think, of what you'd say…" Her voice faltered, and she opened her eyes, staring right into his. "And now you're here, and I have no idea how I thought I could do this without you."
Tim leaned forward, brushing his lips across her forehead. "You don't have to worry about that," he told her. "I'm not going anywhere."
Calleigh had always known that Tim was a good listener, had observed that on many occasions when one or other of the CSIs was making a report. Tim would remain silent while the rest of them jumped in with questions, but he'd listen right through to the end, and only then would he interject, often coming up with something that had passed the rest of them by. Since they'd begun dating, she'd also learned to value his quiet strength, to come to rely on it. She'd never realised just how much though, not until they were lying side by side on a hotel bed in her hometown, telling him all the lurid details of the life she'd left behind. He didn't interrupt her, just listened, and while she thought that it would have been harder, the words spilled forth easily from her lips.
She was fine until she told him about her mother, and she thought of her in the hospital in Shreveport, probably alone and afraid, if she even knew what was going on around her. An image of the woman who had just been barely lucid enough to hug her goodbye as she left to go to college had flashed through her mind, and she could only imagine how much things had deteriorated in the eleven years that she'd been gone, if this was what happened. She felt a tear slip down her cheek, felt Tim's hand reach up to wipe it away, and she covered it with her own, holding it in place, letting his warmth, his strength, fill her.
"I never wanted to come back here," she whispered, keeping her eyes shut. She knew that she'd never be able to tell him this if she was looking at him, would never be able to tell him the whole truth. "And I never wanted you to see any of this. I was so scared of what you'd think, of what you'd say…" She opened her eyes then, staring right into his, seeing total confidence there, total acceptance. "And now you're here," she continued, pressing his hand just a little harder against her cheek. "And I have no idea how I thought I could do this without you."
She closed her eyes again when he leaned in to her, kissing her forehead. "You don't have to worry about that. I'm not going anywhere," he promised, and she sighed, shifting down the bed slightly, wrapping her arms around his neck as she went. His hands slid around her waist, their legs intertwining, and she felt herself relax completely for the first time in what seemed like months.
"I should have told you that I was coming here…" she murmured. "Should've waited for you. I'm sorry…"
"It doesn't matter," he told her, but it did, she knew it did. She also knew that he wasn't going to hold it against her, and she was more grateful for that than she could ever tell him.
"You are one in a million Tim Speedle," she told him, and she felt him chuckle soundlessly.
"I know," he said, and she giggled in surprise, slapping at his shoulder lightly, the giggle turning into a yawn when she wasn't looking.
"You should get some sleep," he said, and she didn't have to look up at him to know that he was frowning; she could hear it in his voice. She looked up at him anyway though, and sure enough, he was giving her the same worried look that she'd seen on his face the previous night.
"I'm good," she murmured, and his hands moved up and down her back, tracing patterns there. As she lowered her head back to his shoulder, she realised that she'd never spoken a truer word either, a contented smile on her face against all the odds.
"You didn't get much sleep last night," he pointed out, his hands still moving, relaxing her still further, lulling her to sleep. "It's ok…"
"I'll have to shower and change before we go to Mike and Sally's…" Even she could hear the complete lack of conviction in her own voice, and she felt Tim's smile against her hair.
"I'll wake you in a couple of hours…go to sleep…"
It felt like it was only seconds later when he felt a hand on her shoulder, shaking her gently. "Calleigh," Tim said softly. "C'mon…time to wake up."
She muttered something that even she didn't understand, and she heard him chuckle, heard him step away from the bed. Glancing at the clock told her that a couple of hours had gone by, which amazed her, because she hadn't even felt him get up from the bed. He'd been busy, that much was clear as he stood looking down at her. The white shirt she'd admired was gone, and he stood before her in only his blue jeans, running a towel over his dark hair. That wasn't the only change either, and she narrowed her eyes as she sat up. "Have you shaved?" she asked curiously, emphasising the last word in her amazement, because seeing Tim without his customary stubble was rare indeed.
His skin flushed, and he shrugged. "I thought I should make a good impression," was all he said, and she grinned, swinging her feet onto the ground, crossing over to him.
"I'd say it's working so far," she purred, running a finger up the length of his arm, bringing her hand to rest on his shoulder.
He lifted an eyebrow, eyes glinting with humour. "Good then," he chuckled, tilting his head, looking almost questioningly down at her. Meeting his eyes, she smiled, sliding her hand around to the back of his neck, bringing his head down to hers. It wasn't such an unusual occurrence for them; him waking her up before he left her place in the morning, having to go back to his place to change before the shift. They'd banter and kiss, and he'd long ago learned to wake her up well before he needed to leave, otherwise they tended to lose track of time. He'd been on the verge of a written warning from Horatio before that lesson had seeped through. So this was pretty normal for them, and her lips neared Tim's, Calleigh knew that.
As their lips met though, in what he obviously intended to be a chaste kiss, something occurred to her. This was the first time that he'd kissed her since they'd come down here; the first time that he'd kissed her since they'd left for work the previous morning, back before everything changed in her life. Perhaps the same thought occurred to him at the same instant, because by mutual consent, the kiss deepened, her mouth opening under his, his towel dropping forgotten to the floor as his hands found other things to do.
Rather unusually for them, it was he who broke the kiss, his hands framing her face, both of them breathing hard. "Calleigh…" he whispered, reluctance written all over his face, mirroring her feelings exactly. She just nodded, a small smile appearing on her face.
"I know. We've got to get ready." She took a step back, but his hands didn't move from her face. "We'll pick this up later?"
A grin appeared on Tim's face. "Count on that."
She showered and washed her hair in record time, emerging in a cloud of fragrant steam, a towel wrapped around her. She didn't miss the look in Tim's eyes as he watched her dress and fix her hair, taking perverse pleasure in the effect she was having on him. He was having much the same effect on her if the truth be known; the blue jeans having been joined by a beige coloured shirt, darker pinstripes running through it, blessedly untucked. He looked more like the Tim that she saw every day, just a little less scruffy, and her eyes kept finding him in the mirror as she dressed. She couldn't help but notice that his eyes never left her either.
Hence it took her longer to get dressed than it normally might have, and she followed Tim's lead, choosing a pair of black jeans and a simple white blouse, her long hair falling still slightly damp down her back. "Ready to go?" Tim asked, and she nodded, grabbing her purse and slipping her hand into his, walking down the stairs.
She'd hoped that they would manage to make it past Violet, but that hope was shattered when the old woman called after them as they walked through the lobby. "You two are going out?" Her tone was one of faint disapproval, and Calleigh could instantly imagine tongues wagging all over town at the news that Calleigh Hayes was out on the town with her fancy man and her father hardly cold.
Nonetheless, she knew that the only thing that would make the gossip worse was if she sailed by Violet without a word; hence she gave the older woman her most charming smile. "We're going to Mike and Sally Fletcher's for dinner," she said. "We've got some catching up to do."
At the mention of Mike's name, Violet nodded. "Well, you two have a nice time, you hear?"
"We'll try." Her social duty done for then, Calleigh led Tim towards the door and out onto the street, where he turned to her with a wry look.
"Does she ever move?" he demanded, and she threw back her head in amusement.
"I don't think so," she admitted. "Seems every memory I have of her she's sitting behind that desk." She looked to the left and right, then tilted her head up to him. "You want to drive or should I?"
"You know where you're going," was Tim's easy response, and they made their way to Calleigh's rental car. They were on the road before either one of them spoke again, with Tim clearing his throat. "So, you and Mike go way back, huh?"
Calleigh smiled, a hundred memories coming to her all at once. "To high school," she said. "He and Sally are pretty much the only people I've kept in touch with from here. Everyone else moved away, we lost touch…"
"But not Mike?"
Calleigh shook her head. "Nope…guess he liked this place more than he let on. Went to Tulane, got about halfway through a law degree, believe it or not, then decided it wasn't for him. Came back here and started with the sheriff's department." She remembered him telling her that he'd got that job; that had been how she'd found out that her father was no longer the sheriff, that he'd lost his job a year previous, his drinking and abuse of suspects becoming impossible to ignore. They hadn't said that publicly of course, though everyone in the town had known, instead pretending that he was simply taking early retirement. Mike hadn't wanted to tell her all that at first, wanting to spare her pain he said, but she'd insisted, crying only when she hung up the phone. "He worked his way up to Deputy Sheriff three years ago. Sally, that's his wife, she was the year behind us in school. She teaches History and English at the local high school." A bitter smile touched her lips as she murmured, more to herself than Tim, "I'm still not quite sure he's forgiven me for not coming to the wedding."
From the corner of her eye, she could see Tim's head turn to her sharply. "Your oldest friend's wedding and you didn't go?" he asked, surprised. "How come?"
She shrugged, not taking her eyes off the road. "I rather thought the return of the prodigal might overshadow things for them," she told him. She'd said the same thing to Mike when he'd begged her to come, and to Sally. They'd both thought that it was because of seeing her family again, and she'd had to tell them that she didn't care about tell. "Tell me that every gossip in town wouldn't be more concerned with Calleigh Hayes coming back after all these years than your wedding," she'd demanded, and Mike's silence, because Mike was never silent, had been answer enough, and she'd stood her ground, sending her regrets.
"I suppose I can see what you mean," Tim allowed, no doubt thinking of Violet and her ilk, who were no doubt in a frenzy right about now. Calleigh knew that her family had been the subject of town talk for years, but nothing compared to this, and her jaw tightened at the thought.
"I'm sure they're talking about us," she told him, trying to make a joke out of it. "What with everything that's happened…" Tears burned her throat suddenly and she battled them back ruthlessly. She hadn't cried since it had happened, and she wasn't going to start now, not when Mike and Sally were expecting her. "And then I show up, with my partner, no wedding ring…"
She chanced a quick look over at him, and wished that she hadn't; the concern she saw in his eyes almost her undoing. She swallowed hard as she turned away, knuckles white on the wheel of the car, and he must have seen that, simply commenting that, "We don't have that problem in Syracuse." He paused for a moment, and something in his voice told her that he wasn't finished, so she wasn't surprised when he continued with, "Unless you count my aunts…because they've got to be telepathic the way they know everything so quickly…"
It was a lame joke, but she appreciated the effort, smiling weakly, but thankful when she was able to flip on her indicator, turning into a side road, driving a few hundred feet up it before turning into a long driveway. "Here we go," she murmured, finally bringing the car to a stop.
Tim whistled as he got out of the car, and Calleigh had to admit that she too was impressed. The old Camden place, as it had been known back when she still lived in town, was legendary as a house that was a good storm away from collapsing in on itself, the owners having died when Calleigh was just starting high school, their only son, who had moved to Baton Rouge and had no interest in the place, letting it fall into disrepair. You'd never know that from looking at the place now though; the walls newly whitewashed, a stark contrast to the dark tiles on the roof, lights shining on the front porch and from the windows. All in all, it was the picture of a warm and welcoming home, beckoning them inside.
Which in no way explained why Calleigh found herself seemingly bolted to the ground beside the car, unable to move.
She was dimly aware of Tim coming round to stand beside her, close enough to touch, but not touching her. "Calleigh?" he asked carefully. "You ok?"
She couldn't have spoken if her life depended on it, just nodded, staring at the house. Just then, the front door opened and a dark-skinned woman came out, dressed in blue jeans and a red T-shirt, her long black hair tied up in a ponytail. She didn't say anything as she came down the steps, just walked over to stand in front of Calleigh. She held her gaze for a long moment before simply nodding once, pulling Calleigh into a hug. Calleigh found herself gripping her tightly, squeezing her eyes shut, doing her level best to banish the cold feeling that had crept over her, not entirely succeeding.
When Sally pulled away, there were tears in her eyes, but she gave Calleigh a brave smile. "You ok honey?"
Calleigh looked heavenward, shaking her head. "It's been a long day," was all she said, and Sally nodded, tucking her arm into Calleigh's, all ready to lead her towards the house.
"Well, I hope you're hungry is all I can say," she said brightly. "Because when Mike told me y'all were coming, I made my Gramma's Creole Chicken, and plenty of it…though it would be nice Calleigh Hayes, to be introduced to this man of yours."
Calleigh flushed red, giving Tim a look which he interpreted correctly as a sign to jump in anytime. "Tim Speedle," he said. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," said Sally, tucking her other arm into Tim's, leading him and Calleigh to the house. "And I gotta tell you, have we got some stories about this girl for you…"
That piqued Tim's interest, and Calleigh tried to smile, knowing that Sally had meant it as a joke, that she was trying to put Calleigh at ease, but it had the opposite effect. Her stomach was churning as they entered the house, and she didn't know how in the world she was going to manage dinner. The house was as warm and inviting from within as it was from without, matching Mike's smile as he stood in the living room. "Good to see you guys," he said, keeping his voice low, which surprised Calleigh, at least until he bent to lift something from the couch. "Let me just clear this place for you." In his arms was a little boy, looking to be about three years old, clad in red flannel pyjamas and sound asleep. "Danny wanted to be introduced to Mommy and Daddy's friends," Mike continued in a whisper as he came towards them. "But he kinda lost it about a half hour ago."
A cold hand reached into Calleigh's chest, squeezing her heart as she saw the child's face, so like his father's, and she was momentarily speechless. Luckily for her, Tim was there to help her out. "How old is he?" he asked, and it was Sally who answered, ushering the two of them to the couch.
"Gonna be four in a couple of months," she told him. "Getting big and bold, like his father."
"I heard that." Mike mock-glared at his wife through narrowed eyes, going up the stairs to put the child down.
Calleigh forced a weak smile to her face, looking over at Sally. "I didn't realise he'd got so big," she murmured, and Sally snickered.
"Tell me about it," she answered. "I look at him some days and wonder where my baby boy went to."
"How old is Clara now?" The way her mind was whirring, along with her stomach, she was surprised that she could remember the name of their daughter, but there it was when she needed it.
"Six months," replied Sally. "And if we're lucky, she'll sleep through dinner. It's just ready - you guys want something to drink?"
"Just water," Calleigh replied, because that was all she could handle right then, and she didn't change her mind just because Sally gave her a hard look. "I'm driving," she added, and Sally just gave her a look, obviously not believing her for a second before looking over at Tim.
"A beer'd be great."
Sally vanished into the kitchen, leaving Calleigh and Tim alone in the living room, and Calleigh mentally steeled herself, hoping that Tim wouldn't say anything, knowing that he would, and he didn't let her down. "You ok?" he asked softly, and she realised suddenly that they were sitting quite far apart on the couch, that he wasn't touching her in the slightest.
"Long day," she whispered, her head dropping into her hands, smoothing back her hair.
"I know." His own voice was just as low, but he still didn't touch her. She did feel the couch shift as he moved though, and she could sense him just a little closer to her. She lifted her head then, giving him a tired smile. "I'm ok," she whispered, reaching over to lay a hand on his knee, squeezing it gently.
He didn't look convinced, but he didn't question her further, not once Mike came back downstairs and Sally came back in, telling them that dinner was served. The food was as good as Sally had promised, even if Tim was taken aback at how spicy it was, drinking about a gallon of water over the course of the meal, not saying much, just listening as Mike and Sally caught Calleigh up on all the news that she'd missed out on. He became more animated when the subject changed to Miami and the work that they did there, and by the time Sally served up the coffee, it was like he'd known them forever, talking away as if they were all old friends.
Calleigh was more than holding her own in the conversation as well, the cold feeling around her heart having dissipated somewhat, and by the time they moved into the living room, herself and Tim once more sitting on the couch, she was almost relaxed. Until, that is, a baby's squall pierced the night. Sally was on her feet before Calleigh had even registered what the noise was, and Mike grinned as he watched his wife disappear. "Looks like someone's gonna get to meet her Aunt Calleigh after all," he laughed.
Calleigh shifted slightly, but didn't say anything, leaving Tim to say, "I'm blaming it on jet lag, because I know you've told me her name-"
"Clara," Mike supplied. "After my mother." He looked over at Calleigh, one eyebrow raised teasingly. "I'm sure Calleigh has some rather interesting stories to tell about her…" Calleigh knew just what he was referring to, several examples coming immediately to mind, her cheeks flushing red.
"Oh, now I'm hooked; do tell," Tim laughed, and she ducked her head, laughing too.
"How about the incredible moving mailbox?" Mike suggested, and Calleigh groaned.
"For the hundredth time Michael," she protested. "That mailbox was never that close to the fence post any other time I drove in that gate."
Mike gave her a look, then Tim. "Mailbox was in the same place since the good Lord made dirt," he said flatly. "Which in no way explains why this girl here ran my car into it when she was driving us both home from school one day."
"You let me drive!" Calleigh pointed out to him. "And I'm a much better driver now."
Tim shifted in his seat, raising his bottle of beer to his lips. "Not so much," he responded, and Calleigh turned on him, mouth open in shock.
Whatever she was going to say was interrupted by Sally's return, Clara in her arms, still fussing. "I think someone wants to join the party," she said, walking the length of the room, cooing to the baby. "You want to meet Calleigh and Tim sweetheart?" she asked, bringing Clara over to them.
Calleigh hadn't been able to take her eyes off the mother and baby since they'd come down the stairs, but the last thing in the world that she wanted to do was take the baby from Sally. "I'm not too good with babies," she demurred, but Sally just shook her head.
"Rubbish," she said, depositing the child into Calleigh's arms without further ado. Calleigh swallowed hard, not being a stranger to children, having all but raised her brothers, but it had been a long time since she'd held a child, and Clara must have known that somewhere, because she didn't seem confident in Calleigh's qualifications. She was more unsettled in Calleigh's arms than she had been in Sally's, and she only began to calm a little when Tim leaned over, touching a finger to her cheek.
"Who's this gorgeous girl?" he asked softly, running his finger up and down the child's cheek gently, smiling when her big brown eyes locked on his. She seemed to be very interested in him, and he continued to talk to her in that same tone of voice. "Nothing to cry about is there? She's not that scary…" His eyes darted to Calleigh momentarily, then back to the baby, and across the room, Mike laughed.
"He like this with all the girls Calleigh?" he wondered, an exclamation of pain at the end of the sentence, courtesy of a light smack from his wife.
"Don't mind him Tim," she said, pausing before she continued. "You are good with her though…" She tilted her head as she looked at him. "You two ever thought of having your own?"
Calleigh's heart seemed to stop for a second, then lurched painfully back to life, hammering loudly in her ears. Tim just chuckled, shaking his head. "Not really," he said. "It's kinda still early days for-"
He stopped talking when Calleigh stood up hurriedly, making Clara squawk in surprise. She knew that the other three were looking at her strangely, knew that she wasn't acting normally, but she couldn't stop herself. She didn't know what was wrong with her; all she knew was that she couldn't sit there, on that couch, in that happy family home, that sweet smelling bundle in her arms, Tim fussing over her as if she really was their own child. "I'm sorry," she said, shoving a now crying Clara in Tim's arms. "I can't…I just…I'm sorry."
Not stopping to listen to anything that they might try to say, she stumbled to the front door, not stopping until she got to the porch. That's as far as she got before her shaking legs gave out, and she sank down onto the steps, hugging her knees to her chest as she breathed in the cool night air, willing herself to stop shaking. She didn't look around when she heard the door open behind her, or when someone sat down beside her.
"Quite the exit there," Mike observed, and she sighed.
"You know me."
"Yeah, I do," he said quietly. "We all do. We know it's not easy for you Calleigh… coming back here after so long…"
"I was fine," she told him, looking up at the stars. "I mean, I was freaking out, but I was fine… I don't know why…" Her voice trailed off.
"I do." He sounded so calm, so assured that her head whipped around to him, because if he had any insight, then she really did want to hear it. "You've gone away, you've made this life for yourself…and now you come back here, and you see what your life could have been like if you'd stayed." Her eyes widened in shock, and he held her gaze, not blinking, not flinching. "You know I'd've married you. You know that."
He was being completely honest with her; she could at least do him that same courtesy. "Yeah. I do."
"Somewhere in that head of yours, which is pretty dinged up right now, and don't tell me that it's not, you're thinking that that could've been you. If you hadn't left home, hadn't gone to Tulane, this could be your life. And you're wondering if you could have stopped what happened if it was."
As she listened to him, Calleigh realised that he was right, recognised that cold hand around her heart for what it was; fear, and regret. "Would that be such a bad thing?" she wondered, and he smiled, giving her a gentle nudge with his elbow.
"I think Sally would have something to say about it," he quipped, and a giggle born of pure surprise escaped her. "Though nine years ago, I would've given anything to have you think like that." He sucked in a deep breath, releasing it in a sigh. "But I know better than that. I know you better than that. This, this life, it's what I want. And it's what Sally wants. But small town life was never for you Calleigh. You never would've been happy here. It's one of the reasons we never would have worked."
She'd only seen him look that way at her once before, a day nine years previously when Mike had told her that he was quitting college, that he was going home. She hadn't been able to understand why anyone would want to go back there, enjoying her freedom too much for that, and he'd looked at her the same way he was looking at her now, telling her that he wanted to make his life there, raise his kids there. She'd known that she'd never be able to give him that, and she'd held him tight and kissed him goodbye, wishing that things could be different, but promising that they'd always be friends. They'd kept that promise, and after the initial round of doubts, she'd had no regrets.
Until tonight, when she saw what could have been.
"We really do make better friends," she murmured now, and he nodded.
"We did what we had to do Calleigh," he told her. "I came back here, you got out…and you did good for yourself, just like I knew you would. You're doing well out in Miami, you've got a man in there who worships you-" She grinned at the mention of Tim, a blush spreading across her cheeks. "No matter what happens with your family, no matter what they do or say, they can't touch that. No-one can."
She nodded slowly, releasing a deep breath, letting the words settle in her mind, in her heart. "Yeah," she breathed, the stars regaining her attention, but only for a moment as the door opened again.
She knew without turning who it was going to be, so she wasn't surprised when she heard Tim's quiet, "Everything ok out here?"
"We're fine man," Mike told him, standing up, dropping a hand onto Calleigh's shoulder. "I'll leave you guys to it."
Calleigh twisted to watch Mike walk away, but her attention moved back to Tim when she saw the worry on his face. "I really am ok you know," she told him and he smirked humourlessly.
"Doesn't look like it," he replied, not unkindly, and she had to admit that he was right. Holding her hand out to him, she motioned him over.
"Sit down here." Something that might have been a smile flitted across his face, and he did as she asked, taking her hand and sitting down beside her. Once again he left a fairly wide tract of space between them, and she shuffled closer to him, so that she could feel the warmth of his body against hers. "I guess I just freaked out for a few minutes in there," she told him candidly. "Being back here…seeing everyone again…"
"Calleigh, relax." Tim squeezed her hand, slight amazement in his features. "After the day you've had, I'm surprised you lasted this long."
She closed her eyes, leaning against him, letting her head fall to his shoulder. "Why are you so good to me?" she wondered, smiling when she felt his head on top of hers.
"Because," he said simply, and while she expected him to continue, he didn't, just left it at that.
And it was enough.
"Tim," she said eventually, a thought occurring to her. "Will you do something for me?"
He lifted his head, and she did the same, meeting his surprised stare with resolute eyes. "Anything," he replied instantly. "You know that."
"Will you drive me to Shreveport tomorrow?"
He frowned, but nodded. "What's in Shreveport?"
She didn't hesitate, and she hoped that he wouldn't try to talk her out of it. "My mother."
He opened his eyes slowly, blinking against the early morning sunlight coming in through the windows, bringing one hand up to rub at his eyes in an effort to clear away the cobwebs. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was, a couple more after that to remember what had brought him there, and when that happened, a few more for him to fully quantify the sense of déjà vu that was sweeping over him. Only yesterday, he'd woken up in a different bedroom in a different state, and he'd woken up expecting to find her beside him, only to find himself alone. He was almost afraid to turn to his side, afraid that she'd be gone again.
Seeing her back was a welcome relief.
She was facing away from him, her breathing deep and even, and he knew from long experience that she was still asleep, and for the moment, he made no moves to wake her. It had taken her a long time to fall asleep, and just like the previous night, he'd given her plenty of space, making no moves to touch her. Unlike the previous night however, this time, she'd turned to him after a few minutes, pressing herself to his side, allowing him to put a cautious arm around her, allowing it to stay there. Somewhere in the night though, she'd moved away from him, and he wasn't quite sure how he felt about that.
He'd known, from the moment they'd got out of the car at Mike and Sally's that something was wrong with her, something more than what had been bothering her all day. She'd been more relaxed after her sleep that afternoon, he knew he hadn't been imagining that, but seeing the house, the sleeping boy in Mike's arms had done something to her, and she'd denied it, she'd tried to put a brave face on it, but he hadn't been fooled. The one thing he'd known for sure though was that this was Calleigh, that she'd be able to keep it together.
He'd thought that, right until she deposited baby Clara into his lap and run out of the house as if the hounds of hell were chasing her, and perhaps, Tim had realised too late, in her own mind, they were. He'd wanted to go after her, but he had a squalling child in his arms, and his first instinct was to try to calm her, even as his gaze had swung to Mike and Sally, who were looking at one another worriedly. "I should-" he'd begun, shifting in his seat, but Mike was already standing.
"Let me Tim," was all he'd said, in a tone that said he wasn't going to take no for an answer, and Tim had sat back, letting him walk outside, not taking his eyes away from the taller man. When he'd turned back to Sally, she was looking at him, not at her husband, and she shrugged.
"Mike'll talk to her," she'd said, voice calm and confident. "He always could."
"Really?" Tim had lifted an eyebrow, because he'd heard enough to know that there had been more between Mike and Calleigh than simple friendship. What he didn't know was just how much more, and when it had ended, and how.
Sally had smiled a small smile. "You didn't know about the two of them did you?"
Despite the seriousness of the whole situation, Tim had chuckled. "Sally, until today, I never realised how much about Calleigh I didn't know."
"There's a lot of that going around," she'd told him. "I didn't know the half of it myself until I started dating Mike; he's the one who told me. I mean, I knew who Calleigh was. Everyone knew who Calleigh was. And we knew that the family situation wasn't ideal, but you'd never know it to look at her. She was clever and pretty and she always looked a million bucks…and Mike adored her." She'd sighed, standing up and taking the baby from Tim. "I'm not sure she knew that, not for a long time. They went to prom together, junior and senior years, but they didn't begin to date until they were both at Tulane."
"Why did they break up?" Tim had asked, and Sally had shrugged.
"Mike decided that law - the legal side anyway - wasn't for him. Decided that he wanted to come home. Calleigh didn't come back with him."
"You make it sound so simple."
"Oh, it wasn't. Far from it. I mean, they didn't break up because they didn't love one another. And even after he came back, it wasn't completely over…there were some visits…" She'd broken off then, shaking her head. "Anyway, it ended…Calleigh moved to Miami, I moved back here and began dating Mike…the rest is history. But the two of them? They've got something that you can't get in between, I can't explain it any better than that. He'll talk to her. He'll help her."
Tim had sighed. "You're very calm about that," he'd observed, because he was more than a little jealous, and he didn't mind admitting it.
"Because there's nothing to be worried about. Calleigh and Mike are in the past. Besides," she'd concluded, running her finger along Clara's cheek. "It's pretty clear that Calleigh's heart lies elsewhere."
"I wish I could believe that." Tim had barely been able to hear his own voice, but Sally had answered anyway.
"You should. It's true."
Tim had looked into her dark eyes, hoping to find reassurance, but he'd known that they were the wrong colour, the wrong eyes. The only way he could feel better about this was to go out to talk to Calleigh, so he'd stood, gesturing to the door. "I'm gonna-" Sally had just nodded, looking down at the baby in her arms.
He hadn't been sure what to expect once he'd gone out on to the front porch, but seeing Mike and Calleigh sitting side by side, close enough to touch but not quite. "Everything ok out here?" he'd asked quietly
It had been Mike who'd replied, Calleigh not turning around. "We're fine man," he'd said, dropping a hand on to Calleigh's shoulder as he'd stood, beginning to walk back towards the front door. "I'll leave you guys to it."
Calleigh had only turned when Mike walked away, something that Tim had tried very hard not to dwell on, but any residual jealousy or discomfort on his part had vanished when he saw the strain on Calleigh's face. "I really am ok you know," she'd said, and he hadn't believed that for a moment.
"Doesn't look like it," he'd said, finding some comfort in the fact that she held her hand out to him, motioning him over.
"Sit down here." A faint smile had lit up her face, disappearing quickly, and he'd come over to her, taking her hand and sitting down in the place that Mike had just vacated. As he'd done ever since he'd heard the news about her father, he gave her her space, didn't crowd her, hoping that it wasn't too obvious that his heart had lifted as she shuffled closer towards him. "I guess I just freaked out for a few minutes in there," breathed. "Being back here…seeing everyone again…"
He'd been amazed that she was apologising to him. "Calleigh, relax. After the day you've had, I'm surprised you lasted this long."
"Why are you so good to me?" she whispered, all but collapsing into him, closing her eyes as her head landed on his shoulder. He closed his own eyes too, savouring how close to normal the moment felt, letting his own head rest on top of hers.
There were any number of answers that he could have given her for that question. He settled for the simplest. "Because," was all he'd said and she'd held her tongue for a long moment, and he'd known in his heart that she'd understood.
They'd sat there in silence for a few precious minutes, Calleigh apparently lost in thought, Tim partly thinking about her, another part of his brain absently noting how quiet it was out here, without the lights and sounds of any nearby city. The silence had been shattered by Calleigh's voice. "Tim, will you do something for me?"
She'd sounded hesitant, unsure, but at the same time there was steel underneath, as if whatever she was asking was something that she really wanted to do, and he'd known in an instant that he couldn't refuse her. "Anything," he'd replied. "You know that."
She hadn't blinked, just stared at him. "Will you drive me to Shreveport tomorrow?"
The answer of course was going to be yes, so he'd nodded, but he hadn't understood what was so important to her, which is why he'd asked, "What's in Shreveport?"
Her answer had surprised him. "My mother," she'd said simply, and if he was honest, his first instinct had been to try to talk her out of it, try to delay it. He'd wanted to tell her that she'd been through enough for the moment, that she should give herself some time to come to terms with what had happened. He'd even opened his mouth to do just that, but looking into her eyes, he hadn't been able to bring himself to say any of that. Instead, he'd just nodded again.
They hadn't spoken for another long moment after that, and she'd returned her head to his shoulder, sighing softly. Eventually, he'd nudged her knee with his, jerking his head in the direction of the front door. "We should get back in," he'd suggested, though that was the last thing that he wanted to do. He wanted to take her somewhere where they could be alone, where he could talk to her, where he could just hold her and they could pretend that all of this was just a bad dream. He could see from the look on her face that she felt the same way, but she'd nodded silently, standing, reaching out for his hand and leading him inside.
They hadn't stayed long after that, Calleigh blaming a long day's travelling for her tiredness, and no-one in the room had called her on the lie. And maybe it hadn't been that much of a lie, because she'd dozed off in the car on their way back to town, and he'd had to shake her lightly when they pulled up outside the hotel. She'd leaned against him heavily on the way in, and while Violet had looked like she was going to call them over, once she'd seen Calleigh, and the warning look that Tim had shot her, she'd let them go by without a word. Despite Tim's earlier wish, they hadn't talked once they got into the room, they'd just gone to bed, and much to Tim's surprise, Calleigh had slept right through the night.
She turned on to her back now, her face screwing up, then shifted again, stretching a little. A throaty moan escaped her, and Tim had to fight back a smile at this most familiar of sights; Calleigh, fighting the morning for a few precious seconds. "Morning," he murmured, rolling onto his side so that he could face her, waiting for her to open her eyes.
"Thank you for leaving good out of that sentiment," she grumbled, eyes opening just a little, her arm then going over them.
"I know how you get in the mornings," he teased, and she'd chuckled at that. Then it was as if a cloud passed over her features, her arm falling away, and he knew that she'd remembered where they were going that day, what their plans were. She drew in a deep breath, her green eyes meeting his brown ones, and he could see the uncertainty there, the fear. "You don't have to do this," he told her softly.
She set her jaw, looking up at him resolutely. "Yes I do." Her voice was just as soft, but just as firm, and he sighed, accepting her decision.
"Then we'd better get on the road," he said simply. "We've got a long drive ahead." He'd been turning away from her, halfway to being out of bed when her hand closed on his wrist, her fingers cold against his warm skin, and he'd glanced back over his shoulder at her, wondering if she was all right. "Calleigh?" he asked when she didn't say anything, just looked up at him with flushed cheeks and huge eyes.
He hadn't said anything to that because there was nothing he could say, so he just smiled at her. She smiled back, dropping her hand, and they'd gone about their morning rituals as they always did, with very little talk. They had a minor disagreement over breakfast, Calleigh wanting to get on the road, Tim insisting that they partake of Violet's cooking. He'd known that part of her reason for not wanting to eat there was that she didn't want to face Violet, and he couldn't say that he blamed her. He'd put his foot down though, reminding her that she'd hardly eaten at all yesterday, and that he wasn't going to let her make herself sick, not while he had anything to say about it. She tried to argue with him, but not very hard, and there was a look on her face that told him that she wasn't upset with him for arguing with her on this; that in fact, she found it rather sweet.
Breakfast for the two of them could usually be either a long, leisurely affair, where they took their time, enjoying one another's company, or very rushed, the result of having lingered too long in bed, not leaving themselves enough time to get ready for work. Today, it fell somewhere in between, both of them made uncomfortable by Violet's constant hovering, her rather obvious attempts to garner any morsel of gossip she could.
Not for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, Tim wondered how on earth Calleigh could have grown up in a town like this, and understood anew her need to get away from here, her lack of any desire to go back. Once they finished their meal, went outside to the car, he could almost feel the tension leaving her body, and the further from Darnell they got, the more relaxed she appeared.
Until, that is, they began to see signs for Shreveport.
That's when she began to drum her fingers against her knees, not in time to the radio, but to some rhythm that only she could hear. She rolled down the car window when they were entering the city, as if she couldn't get enough fresh air into her lungs, and by the time he pulled up in the parking lot of the hospital, she was taking deep breaths, her face chalk white. He didn't speak when he turned off the engine, just looked over at her, and it was she who broke the silence, though she didn't look at him. "Please don't tell me that I don't have to do this." Her voice was like iron, but he could hear the slight tremor that she was trying to keep back.
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said calmly, not making any moves towards her, waiting to follow her lead.
She took another deep breath, then another, before throwing her head back, straightening her shoulders and looking over at him. "Let's go."
He followed her into the hospital, waited beside her as she asked about her mother at the reception desk, waited while they realised that she was who she said she was, waited while they found her mother's doctor. When Doctor Jones came out, he was very polite to them, very kind, but it was obvious to Tim that he was reluctant to let them see her. "We had to put her on some medication, as I'm sure you understand…Miss Hayes, you may not want to see her like this."
Calleigh set her jaw, arms crossed over her chest. "First of all, it's Duquesne. Secondly, I've seen my mother…" She swallowed hard, looking down, unable to complete the thought. "It would not be the first time."
The doctor considered it for a moment, looking from Calleigh to Tim, then back again. "I apologise Mrs Duquesne, offending you was not my intention. I merely meant…"
"Doctor, I understand." Calleigh interrupted him, but much to Tim's surprise, didn't correct the doctor's mistake. "But I've come a long way. And I'd like to see my mother." There was a softness to her voice that Tim had rarely heard, and he was sure that he could hear tears in her throat when she whispered, "Please."
The doctor looked at her for a long moment, and Tim stepped closer to her, wanting to be there to support her, also wanting to show a united front to the doctor. He noticed the other man's eyes flick over to him before settling back on Calleigh again, and then he nodded. "Follow me."
Even though her back was to him, Tim hear Calleigh breathing in, saw the almost violent rise and fall of her shoulders. He took that as a measure of how ill at ease she felt, her slow walk, rather than her usual confident, assured gait, further confirmed that. He stayed as close behind her as he could without touching her, not saying anything, just following her.
The room was small, the bed neatly made, a chair by the window, another chair facing it. A woman sat, staring out, her hands joined in her lap, and she didn't stir when the doctor opened the door, didn't look around. Nor did she move when Calleigh spoke, her voice soft, trembling with tears. "Momma?"
When there was no response, not even a delayed one, Calleigh took another deep breath, taking a few tentative steps towards the woman, Tim as ever at her back. At first, he could only see the back of the woman's head, could see the long blonde hair cascading down her back, the twin of Calleigh's hair. Once he got closer, once they came around to face her, Calleigh gasped in surprise, and Tim was hard pressed to keep back his own exclamation of shock.
He'd known of course, having seen the photograph Calleigh had been holding only two nights and several lifetimes ago, that Calleigh was very like her mother. How alike though, he hadn't been prepared for. Same long blonde hair, same green eyes, same facial features, and not as old as he'd been expecting either; she couldn't have been more than twenty when Calleigh was born he thought. It was quite a surreal experience for him, but that wasn't all that shocked him, and it certainly wasn't what made Calleigh gasp.
What made Calleigh gasp was the livid red bruising covering the entire right side of her mother's face, the fading yellow bruises around her neck. She wore a short sleeved night gown, more bruises of various shapes and hues along her arms, a thick bandage encasing her right wrist. Tim could only guess at the bruises that weren't visible, but they weren't the worst thing. The worst thing was the look in her eyes - empty, soulless, completely defeated.
When he was able to tear his eyes away from her to look at Calleigh, he could see that she was visibly shaking from head to foot. "Momma?" she whispered again, and perhaps it was her proximity to the other woman, but the word seemed to reach her and she turned large unfocussed eyes on them.
"Hello," she said, and her voice matched Calleigh's, but was more accented. "Who are you?"
Tim winced at the simple words, and Calleigh emitted a hastily stifled sob, sinking down on the chair across from her mother. "I'm Calleigh," she managed to say, and how she was keeping her voice level, Tim didn’t know. "And this is Tim."
"I'm Stella," came the reply, then she blinked, looking at Calleigh owlishly. "I have a little girl called Calleigh you know."
Calleigh looked around at Tim briefly, then back to her mother. "Really?"
Her mother nodded. "Oh yes…pretty as a picture she is, my little girl. You look a lot like her as a matter of fact. Smart as a whip too; she's gonna have the world at her feet, my girl. Not like me."
"Like you?" Calleigh's voice was very small.
"My parents never wanted me to marry her daddy you know. Said that I was too young, that he was no good, that I could do better. But I loved him you see. Thought he hung the moon and stars. We had to run away to get married…my little girl's not ever gonna have to run away from anything."
Calleigh ducked her head, breathing deeply, and Tim took a step closer to her, wanting to touch her, but not quite daring to. "You should see her…all long blonde hair and big green eyes…and she just loves it when I sing to her…" Her eyes slid from Calleigh over to the window, and she began to sing in a low whisper, "Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by…" She paused then, frowning. "I forget the rest."
The room was silent for a moment before Calleigh's whisper filled it. "There's a better home a-waiting…"
She hadn't looked up, but Stella's face brightened, and she joined in with the last few words, their two voices blending together, sending shivers up and down Tim's spine. "…In the sky Lord, in the sky."
"You know that song too?" she asked Calleigh.
Calleigh nodded, finally lifting her head. Her face was pale, her eyes, while dry, were bright red, a sure sign that she was concealing her emotions, with little effect. "My momma used to sing it to me," she whispered.
If Stella noticed anything unusual in that, she showed no sign of it. "She did?"
"Every night when she tucked me into bed," Calleigh told her. "She would tell me stories about her family, and about fairy princesses and handsome princes, and happily ever after… "
"Those sound like nice stories," Stella said when Calleigh's voice trailed off, lost in yesterdays.
"They were." Calleigh's voice sounded very young, and very far away. "I always knew that she loved me when she'd sing me that song."
"I bet she loved you very much." Stella leaned forward, touching Calleigh's hand, and Calleigh's head, which had turned to stare out the window, whipped back around, staring into green eyes that were so much like her own.
"She did," Calleigh whispered, and this time, there were tears in her eyes. "And I love her too." Her hand closed over Stella's, patting it gently, then she stood. "I need to go now."
Stella's face registered dismay. "So soon?"
"Yeah…we have a long way to go…"
"Will you come back soon?" Her expression was that of a child, and Calleigh nodded.
"Yeah…we'll come back soon." Bending down, she pressed a kiss to her mother's forehead before she literally stumbled out of the room, and Tim had no choice but to follow her.
He found her just on the other side of the door, slightly hunched over, gulping down huge breaths of air, one hand braced against the wall for support. He walked around to stand in front of her, and she straightened up, shaking her head, her other hand going to her chest. "I’m ok," she told him, but he could see that she wasn't, and he shook his head, not willing to let her away with that, not any more, not now, not when she was barely hanging on by a thread.
"Calleigh," was all he said, hand outstretched, aiming for her shoulder, and she shook her head, trying to back away from him.
"Tim…" That was as far as she got in her protests, because a second later, sobs overtook her body, and he saw the first tear that he'd seen her cry since all this had begun make its way down her cheek. Instead of waiting for him to touch him, this time, he reached out and pulled her into his arms, holding her there despite her initial struggles, stroking her hair, letting her know with his touch, if not by words, that he was there for her.
After a few seconds, she stopped struggling, just wrapped her arms around his waist tightly, crying as if she was never going to stop.
Calleigh had never been more grateful for anything in her life than Tim's strong arms at that precise moment in time. She'd known that seeing her mother was going to be difficult, had only been able to guess at how much her mental state had deteriorated in the years since she'd last seen her. She'd been expecting her to have bruises, expecting her not to recognise her.
She could never have expected how much it would hurt.
She could never have expected to hear her mother singing that song, the song that she used to sing to rock her to sleep, her singing voice transporting Calleigh back to when things had been all right in her family, before Daddy began drinking so heavily, before Momma got sick. Back when she knew that she was the centre of their world, back when she felt loved and protected.
What had hurt her more than anything else though, what had cut her to the core were her mother's simple words. "My little girl's not ever gonna have to run away from anything." They hurt so much because she knew that that was what her mother had wanted for her; she'd wanted her to do well, to be successful, to have everything that she herself had never had. She'd told Calleigh as much in her more lucid moments, and Calleigh had been able to see it in her eyes that morning that she'd left for college, the morning that she'd promised a sobbing Joshua that she'd be back soon for a visit. Her mother had known that she was lying, and more than that, the hug that she'd given her, the look in her eyes had screamed loud and clear at Calleigh that she should leave, that she should never come back to this place again. Calleigh had never expected her return to take place like this.
She also knew that her mother's dream for her had never come true, because she knew that she'd been running away her entire life. Running away from Darnell, and the prying eyes and the gossip, running away from her mother's illness and her father's drinking. Running away from the racism, from the anger that she'd seen in his eyes. She'd left all that behind at eighteen, re-inventing herself at college, changing her name and never talking about her past if she could help it. She'd severed a lot of her ties, the only one that remained really was Mike, and she knew that he'd always be in her life, in some way shape or form. He'd told her the truth the previous night; she knew that he would have married her, would have done it in a heartbeat. Just as she knew that Calleigh Hayes would have said yes to him in a heartbeat. Even if it caused a rift between her and her father, even if it brought scandal to the town, Calleigh Hayes would have married Mike Fletcher, would have moved back to Darnell and shown by example that her father's principles weren't hers, that she wasn't her father's daughter. Calleigh Hayes would have accepted that Mike knew all about her, knew her deepest darkest secrets and loved her anyway, knew that he would never hold them against her. She wouldn't have minded that.
Calleigh Duquesne was another story though.
Calleigh Duquesne wanted to leave her past far behind her, and that's just what she did. Calleigh Duquesne was sassy and flirty and able to handle anything, and she didn't want a man, not even someone as wonderful as Mike to rescue her from her father. She wanted to save herself, wanted to make her own way in the world. She wanted to forget all about Calleigh Hayes, wanted to start over, make a new life in the big city, never looking back.
She'd done that. She'd found a job she loved, friends she cared about, and a man who she thought might be "The One", who seemed like he was pretty crazy about her too. Then Mike had called her a couple of days ago and her entire life had begun to fall apart around her.
She'd never expected Tim to follow her to Darnell, had never expected him to be so calm about everything she'd kept from him. She'd never expected him to support her unconditionally, no questions asked, acting surprised that this surprised her. She'd hoped for this of course, but never in her wildest dreams had she expected her hopes to pan out.
She'd wanted to be strong, as she'd be strong for so many years, and she'd sworn to herself that she'd never cry in front of anybody, that, as she'd done for so many years, she'd cry her tears alone.
Except that Tim wouldn't let her do that, wouldn't let her go, so she allowed herself to cry in his arms, allowed herself to cry like she hadn't cried in years, if ever. She cried for her mother, and for her father, and for herself, Calleigh Hayes or Calleigh Duquesne, whichever one she really was, because she wasn't sure she knew anymore.
When her sobs finally subsided and she straightened up, he was slow to let her out of the circle of his arms, looking down at her worriedly. She didn't say anything, still short of breath from her sobs, and he reached up with one hand, wiping her cheeks, eyes dark with concern. "C'mon," he said quietly. "Let's get you some air."
He led her outside, finding a deserted bench, and she sank down onto it gratefully, the short walk having turned her legs to jelly. His arms were still around her, and she dropped her head on to his shoulder, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths. "She was so young when she had me," she found herself whispering. "She was just barely eighteen, hadn't even graduated high school, already pregnant…I never knew my grandparents, her parents. They refused to talk to her." She sighed, remembering her mother's occasional attempts to contact her parents, the pleading phone calls, the letters marked "return to sender" clogging up the mailbox. "She was always so pretty…all that long blonde hair…I used to beg her to let me brush it…I could spend hours doing that." She frowned, something occurring to her suddenly, what he must think of her mother, of their family. "It wasn't always like it is now," she told him, important to her that he knew that. She even straightened up, meeting his gaze. "We were happy. But we didn't have much, and I think that affected them both in different ways…Daddy would drink, and Momma…she just couldn't handle things very well, that's all. But it wasn't always like this Tim… it wasn't."
He was nodding, brow furrowed, one hand running through her hair. "I know that."
"He would hit her sometimes…when he'd been drinking. He'd hit all of us." Tim's jaw tightened, and she shrugged, trying to downplay it. "We learned when to run away… where to hide. Learned to look out for one another…then I left. Ran away."
"You didn't run away Calleigh," he told her. "You had to leave."
Even though she'd said as much to Joshua the day before, right now, to her, there was no difference, and she shook her head. "It didn't matter though… no matter how far I ran, it was always there. I just tried not to think about it. But there are some things that you can't escape from."
Tim sighed, looking away from her for a moment, and she missed his gaze the second it was gone from her. "I know," he sighed, his voice low and far away, and she blinked, wondering what demons were haunting him, had haunted him in the past. Then he turned back to her, eyes serious. "I know you can never escape it," he said slowly. "But you can move on. And sometimes…" He paused, keeping one arm around her, the other reaching out and taking one of her hands in his, his thumb sweeping over her palm. "Sometimes you don't even realise you have…until you look around you one day and there you are."
She frowned, not understanding. "How do you know? When you've done that?"
He shrugged with one shoulder, bringing their joined hands up to his lips before pulling her head back down to his shoulder. "You just do."
They sat there like that in silence for a long time, letting the world go by without them, Tim eventually pulling her up, walking her back to the car and starting the long drive back. With the radio playing softly and Tim beside her, strong and silent, Calleigh found her eyes growing heavier, and she didn't realise that she'd fallen asleep until she woke up when Tim pulled the car over. He didn't say anything, waited for her to wake up, watching her as she rubbed her eyes, realising where they were, or rather, weren't. "This isn't Darnell," she said, and he nodded.
"We're in Monroe," he told her. "I thought we'd get something to eat here."
She frowned, shaking her head. "Tim, I'm really not-"
"Calleigh." It was one word, and it wasn't a shout, or an order, just her name said calmly, letting her know that he wasn't going to let her away with saying no. Accepting that, she nodded, getting out of the car without further comment, allowing him to lead her to the first restaurant they came to, not caring too much about what it was like, or what she ate. Dinner passed mostly in silence, Calleigh not really in the mood to talk, Tim not forcing her to, just sitting across from her, their legs touching one another underneath the table, his brown eyes trained on her, ever watchful.
They didn't linger in Monroe when they'd finished eating, and once again Calleigh found herself drifting off to sleep as Tim drove them the rest of the way back. It was early evening when they arrived back in town, and as the car came to a stop and she found herself staring at the façade of the hotel, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the last thing she wanted to do at that moment was go in there. "You ok?" Tim asked her quietly, and she looked over at him, shaking her head.
"I just don't want to…" Except that she wasn't sure what she didn't want, her voice trailing off in frustration. "Can we…I don't know…can we walk for a little while?"
He didn't even blink. "Sure," he replied. "We can do that."
And so, hand in hand, they simply walked in silence through the streets of the town. Past the hotel where Violet was no doubt waiting for them. Past the storefronts, some that she recognised, some that she didn't, all shut up for the night. She brought him past her elementary school, and her high school, where she smiled when she saw the tall fence surrounding the football field, remembering the Friday night football games, when she'd been sitting in the stands, cheering on the team, or, later in her high school career, when she'd been on the sidelines, leading the cheers as Mike played at wide receiver. They walked by houses, small and large, and she remembered a time when she could have told him who lived in each and every one of them, who their relations were, and any other pertinent gossip. It was only when they got to the police station, a place so intrinsic to her memories of growing up in this town, that her gait slowed, and she gripped Tim's hand just a little bit tighter. She came to a stop altogether at the gate, could feel Tim looking down at her, pulling her closer to him. "You ok?" he murmured, and she nodded.
"I used to come here all the time with him," she murmured. "He taught me how to shoot a gun out the back…didn't stop until I was a better shot than he was."
"Bullet Girl." He teased her with her nickname when her voice trailed off, and she smiled.
"It beats Lampchop," she admitted with a giggle, leaning her head against his shoulder with a sigh.
"You want to go in?" he asked, because there were still lights on, and it wouldn't have been an unreasonable assumption. It was the last thing she wanted to do though, and so she shook her head, but just as he was about to say something in response to that, Mike came out.
"I thought it was you two I saw out here," he said. "I've been looking for you."
"We ah…took a little field trip," Calleigh said, leaving it at that, hoping Mike wouldn't push too hard. "Everything ok?" She was half afraid that Joshua was causing trouble, or that Sally was upset over what had happened the previous night, but she didn't think that the latter was very likely.
Mike sighed, shifting on his feet, not able to meet her gaze, and that alone had Calleigh's stomach swirling unpleasantly. Mike was never tongue-tied, not around her. They had too much history for that. "We got word today, from Frank." Frank was her oldest brother, and at the mention of his name, Calleigh swallowed hard. "Your dad's funeral is tomorrow."
Had he slapped her, he might well have got the same reaction from Calleigh. She gulped in a deep breath, feeling for a moment as if the world was tilting crazily, Tim's grip on her hand the only thing anchoring her to reality. From somewhere very far away, she heard Tim asking, "Isn't that kinda soon?"
Mike's response was a little clearer. "I think they wanted to have it done as soon as possible…less chance for talk." Calleigh wanted to tell him that while it was a reason, and possibly a valid one, there was no chance that an early funeral would stop the talk. If anything, the local scandalmongers would be out in force, eyes peeled, spotting every gesture, every facial expression, looking for anything amiss. "Tomorrow morning. Eleven o'clock, in the church."
Calleigh took another deep breath, nodding slowly. "Thanks Mike." She turned away then, loosening her death-grip on Tim's hands, walking away from the two men, not sure if it was the news or the loss of Tim's skin against hers that had her feeling so bereft.
She barely heard Tim saying to Mike, "I'll take care of her," then she heard his footsteps, familiar to her from years of working with him at the lab, quicker than she was used to them, as he ran to catch up with her, and she just hoped that she could pull herself together before he did. She thought she was doing all right, but the second his arm went around her, his hand landing on her shoulder, turning her to face him. He opened his mouth to say something, and she shook her head, begging him not to, praying he understood. He seemed to, because he just muttered, "Come here," before pulling her into his arms.
She went willingly, arms slipping around his waist, her head nestled against his chest, eyes closed, the sounds of Darnell at that hour of the night echoing in her head, holding onto her sanity the only way she knew how.
When she was together enough to think about walking, she straightened, giving him a quick nod, starting back the way that they'd come. He didn't take his arm from around her shoulders as they walked, something she was grateful for, and when they walked into the hotel, and Violet once more started over to them, from the corner of her eye, she could see Tim give the older woman a warning look. He'd done the same thing the previous night, something Calleigh had wanted to do but would never have had the guts to, the legacy of growing up in a small town. She'd never wanted anyone to think badly of her, to appear impolite; that hadn't been how her momma raised her, but Tim, a city boy through and through, didn't have that baggage, and while she knew that Violet was undoubtedly going to be talking about her boyfriend's lack of breeding, for once, Calleigh didn't care.
Once in their room, the second she saw the bed, a wave of tiredness washed over her, and she barely had the energy to wash up before bed, scattering her clothes all over the floor before crawling underneath the covers. Seeing Tim, her slovenly Tim, picking up after her, piling the clothes more or less neatly on the back of a chair, brought a smile to her face, and he shot her a look, knowing just what she was thinking. "Not a word," he warned, and she closed her eyes, pulling the covers tighter around her.
"Come to bed," she breathed, and he didn't make her wait long. The last few nights had been different for them; two nights ago, there had been a large tract of space between them. The previous night, he'd given her the same space, which, after a few minutes, she'd rolled over to press her body against his. Tonight though, the moment he was under the covers, she rolled towards him, wrapping her body around his, his chest her pillow as she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
In contrast to the previous night when she'd fallen into a deep and dreamless sleep, her sleep this night was restless, filled with dreams that she couldn't remember when she woke up, only that she remembered terror, and running, and a high place where she was safe. The first thing she saw when she woke up were Tim's brown eyes staring worriedly at her, and she was able to give him a wan smile. "Morning," she murmured, stretching up to place a kiss on his cheek before settling into his arms, her head against his chest.
"You gonna be ok today?" he asked, his fingers running through her hair.
She sighed, giving him the only answer she could, the only answer she knew. "I don't know."
"You know if there's anything you need," he said, and she could hear the frown in his voice, didn't even have to look at him to know that it was there. "You just have to ask."
"I know," she said with a smile. "You've been terrific."
"I haven't done much," he protested, and she propped herself up on one elbow, reaching up with her other hand to cup his cheek.
"You've been wonderful," she told him, bringing her lips to his for a kiss that started off as tentative as the last time he'd kissed her, in this very room just before they'd gone to Mike and Sally's for dinner. Just like then, the kiss started as one thing, but ended up as something else, escalating in passion as Calleigh lost herself in the feeling of Tim's lips on hers, his hands roaming across her body. She was dimly aware of Tim pushing her on to her back, feeling the comforting familiarity of his weight against her, his skin against hers, and she literally groaned with frustration when he pulled away from her, staring down at her. They were both breathing hard, and she could see his eyes, glazed with passion and concern, the latter taking over from the former. Tears sprang to her own eyes, because she knew that she didn't want him to stop.
"Calleigh-" he whispered, and she brought her hand to his lips, shushing him.
"Tim, please…please…" she begged, sliding her hand around to the back of his neck, not able to articulate much beyond that. "We've got time," she told him, the only reason she could come up with for not doing this, and he shook his head sadly.
"It's not that," he told her. "It just…I don't know, it just doesn't seem right…"
"You said," she breathed. "You said whatever I needed, right?" He nodded. "I need you Tim." A tear trickled down her cheek and he brushed it away tenderly, leaning down to kiss her forehead. "Please," she whispered again, a second before his lips found hers.
Calleigh lost all sense of time and place as Tim made love to her, his eyes locked with hers, an emotion between them that Calleigh couldn't remember ever feeling before, not with Tim, not with any other man. She wasn't sure what it meant, even what it was; all she knew was that she felt alive, felt like herself, for the first time in days, and she thought for the first time that maybe, just maybe, she could get through this.
Her new-found sense of security lasted as long as it took her to have a shower and wash her hair, Tim allowing her an extra few minutes in bed as he grabbed the first shower. While she was in the shower, he shaved and started to dress, and when she emerged from the bathroom, a cloud of fragrant steam with her, she saw him standing in front of the mirror, black trousers and crisp white shirt, his tie lying on the bed. "Hello handsome," she said, though not with her usual level of flirtiness, the sight of the black clothing reminding her of what they were there for.
He quirked one eyebrow at her before he turned back to the mirror, looping the tie around his neck, beginning to tie the knot in it. "Don't get used to it," he ordered, and she smiled, shaking out her hair, beginning to brush it out.
"Is it my fault you scrub up so nicely?" she asked rhetorically, going on with her preparations, finishing drying her hair, pulling it into a loose ponytail at the back of her neck. She'd brought a sleeveless black dress with her, and she stepped into it now, Tim stepping up to her without even being asked, zipping it up, his hands lingering on her shoulders.
"Remember," he said, his eyes meeting hers in the mirror. "Whatever you need."
She nodded, not breaking eye contact. "I've got you," she whispered, one hand reaching up to cover his. "I'm good."
As had happened the previous morning, Tim tried to make her eat something, but this morning, Calleigh prevailed, insisting that there was no way she could stomach anything. He'd chosen, for whatever reason, not to push her on that, instead simply nodding, sitting down on the bed with her, holding her hand in silence until it was time for them to leave. The drive to the church was a short one, and in point of fact Calleigh knew that they could have walked, but that would have left more time for people to see them, see her, and she didn't want that. As it was, she could see people giving the car second and third glances as they pulled in, could see that people were surprised to see her back, because although they had undoubtedly been talk, she'd managed to keep a fairly low profile since she'd been back, not seeing too many people. They were giving Tim curious looks as well, wondering who he was, what his relationship with her was, although when he took her hand the second they got out of the car, the game was pretty much given away.
They were early for the service, but it seemed as if the entire town had congregated around the grounds of the chapel, and from her stance beside the car, Calleigh could see, at the door of the chapel, greeting the mourners that were filing in, four men, dressed in dark suits and ties, and her breath caught at the sight. Joshua, she recognised, not so the other three, not at first. Then their features blurred in her memory, turning their faces younger, and she recognised her baby brothers, all grown up. The sight froze her in her tracks, as she wondered what to do, deathly afraid of the reception she'd get from them. If Joshua's was anything to go by, it wasn't going to be pretty, and she sure as hell didn't want a scene in front of this many people.
For the briefest of moments, she considered turning tail and running, to hell with whatever people in town thought of her. She even opened her mouth to suggest it to Tim, but before she could, one of the men turned around, catching her eye. It was Frank, her eldest brother, and she could see his eyes widen as he saw her, then his face went carefully blank as he pointed her out to the other men. Joshua's jaw tightened, his face darkened with anger, and he made to step in her direction. Calleigh tensed, expecting the scene she'd been dreading, not helped by Tim's taking half a step closer to her protectively.
Then something unexpected happened.
Frank's back was to her, so she wasn't sure, but it looked as if he said something to Joshua, something that had the younger man shrinking back, held in place by Billy and Jeff's hands, one on either shoulder. Frank turned then, heading straight for Tim and Calleigh, and once more, her feet seemed to be glued to the ground.
"Frank," she said cautiously in greeting when her brother stood in front of them, about an inch or two shorter than Tim, sandy-blond hair a shade or two darker than Calleigh's.
"Calleigh," he replied, just as cautiously. Then he cleared his throat, adding, "I'm glad you came."
She gave him a nervous smile. "I wasn't sure if I'd be welcome…Joshua…"
"Joshua told us you came by the house." Frank interrupted her, glancing over his shoulder at the brothers assembled there. "And what he said. He shouldn't have. He was angry Calleigh…he still is angry. But he wasn't speaking for the rest of us. I hope you know that."
Whatever Calleigh had been expecting, that wasn't it, and she was hard pressed not to sag against Tim in relief. "I wasn't sure…" she whispered, shaking her head, looking off to the side of Frank's head, because looking in his eyes hurt too damn much. "It was so long ago…"
"Full ride to Tulane? Out of this place, away from everything?" Frank didn't go into details, probably due to the combined effect of people listening in, and the fact that they both knew what life had been like in the Hayes household. "You, more than anyone, deserved that." He cleared his throat again. "I just wish I'd told you how proud I am of you."
That did it for any semblance of self-restraint that Calleigh might have been kidding herself that she had, and she stepped forward, hugging her brother closely to her, squeezing his waist as tightly as she could. When she stepped back, her vision was clouded with tears, and she had to wipe her eyes self-consciously. "I missed you all so much," she whispered. "And I wanted to come visit…I really did…but…"
Frank reached over, squeezing her shoulder, stopping her words. "I know Min," he whispered, voice husky, eyes none too dry, and the name he used was good for another few tears from Calleigh. "I know."
Brother and sister stood there like that for a long moment before Calleigh remembered her manners, turning to the man beside her. "Tim, this is my brother Frank. Frank, this is Tim Speedle."
"Nice to meet you." Tim extended his hand, and Frank took it, his face perfectly serious as he did so.
"This the guy Violet's been telling everyone about?"
Calleigh was about to ask what the hell Violet had been saying, was about to tell Frank just how serious her relationship with Tim was, but then she caught the gleam in Frank's eyes, and it was as if the years that had separated them melted away, and he was once more her little brother, teasing her over some guy she was seeing. "Stop teasing," she said sternly, her lips twitching. "This is neither the time nor the place."
Frank rolled his eyes, but otherwise kept his face serious. "Yes Min," he said, in a long suffering tone, reaching out to take her by the elbow. "We'd better get in," he said. "They're gonna want to start soon."
Calleigh nodded, struck dumb suddenly, and, grateful for the support of the two men, she made her way to the steps of the church, where Billy and Jeff both were waiting to hug her. Joshua merely stood there, arms folded, not saying a word, but she nodded at him anyway. She wanted to hug him, but she knew that it was going to take a long time before he understood why she'd done what she'd done, if he ever understood it. There was nothing she could do but wait.
The family filed up to the front pew, Tim letting go of her hand once they got there, to allow her to sit with her brothers she supposed. That's not what she wanted though, and she grabbed his hand as he tried to move to the pew behind her, turning pleading eyes on him. He frowned, shaking his head, reminding her silently that the front row was for immediate family only, and she whispered in reply, "Please." She hated the desperation in her voice, hated that she might be making him do something he wasn't comfortable with, but she was still relieved when he came over to sit beside her, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, where it remained all the way through the service.
The service was lovely; she had to admit that, even if the sight of her father's coffin made her stomach roil, had her looking down for most of the time. The ex-mayor, a crony of her father's of old, had been asked to deliver the eulogy, and he managed to do so without mentioning the circumstances of her father's death, or the circumstances by which he'd lost his job. Instead, he'd focussed on the things that he'd done for the community, again with certain omissions, had told how much he'd loved his family, how proud he'd been of his five children, how he'd worshipped them. That had been the point where Calleigh got a little choked up, because she knew that that much was true. No matter what happened when he'd been drinking, when he was sober, her father doted on his children, especially when they were small, back before things got bad. In particular, she'd been the apple of his eye, his first born, his little girl. He'd taught her to shoot, she'd followed him into law enforcement…and he'd been the reason she'd left this place, made a new life for herself, a life where, despite her demons, despite her childhood, she was happy. Where she had the world at her feet, just as her mother had wanted for her.
The priest was talking, finishing up the service, but suddenly, instead of his voice, all Calleigh could hear was Tim. "You can never escape it. But you can move on. And sometimes… sometimes you don't even realise you have…until you look around you one day and there you are."
And sitting there, in the front pew of the church, her father's funeral going on around her, Calleigh smiled.
They were standing in the graveyard, just a short walk from the church, Tim standing close behind Calleigh as she shook hands with the last of the mourners who had come to pay their respects to her father. She was holding up well he thought, her pleading eyes as he'd tried to sit in the pew behind her notwithstanding. Since they'd exited the church though, she seemed calmer somehow, more at peace with herself, and she didn't look to Tim as if she was keeping anything back, as if she was just holding on. She looked like his Calleigh, the Calleigh that he saw every day in Miami, and he didn't realise how much he'd missed her until just now.
When the last mourner had left, Tim stepped to her side, reaching an arm around her waist, squeezing her lightly. He received a tired smile for his efforts, her head going to his shoulder for a second, one hand resting lightly on his chest. "I'm fine," she whispered, an answer to his unspoken question, and he fought back a smile.
"I know," he replied, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.
She straightened up when Frank came over to her, his hands in his pockets. "We've organised lunch at Violet's…" he said hesitantly, his eyes darting from Calleigh to Tim and back again. "I know you're staying there…can we expect to see you?"
Tim looked down at Calleigh, meeting her eyes, shrugging one shoulder, indicating that it was fine with him. He wasn't sure though, that she would want to go there while the whole town was gathered there. She nodded, looking back at Frank. "We'll see you there in a little while," she told him. "I just…I need…"
"I understand," Frank told her, stepping towards her, his arms open. Tim immediately dropped his arm from around her waist, allowing her to meet Frank in a hug. He was still standing close enough that he would hear Frank's soft words, a plea to his big sister. "Just make sure you come Min…for me?"
Calleigh stepped back, giving him a smile. "I promise," she whispered. "Go."
The other three brothers had already left, Tim could see them waiting at the gate of the graveyard, and he stood watching as Frank met them, saying something, then all four men walked in the direction of the church. When he looked back at Calleigh, she was standing beside the open grave, looking down into it, glancing then at the myriad flowers laid around it. He wanted to say something, anything to her, but he couldn't think of anything except the most inane small talk, something he hated at any time, all the more at a time like this. The silence was eventually broken by a sigh from her, and she turned to face him, holding out her hand. He took it gladly, and she smiled, glancing around for one last look at the grave. "Goodbye," she whispered softly, before nodding once at Tim, and they walked hand in hand out of the graveyard, back towards the church, and their car.
When they got there, he opened the passenger door, waiting for her to get in. "Where should we go?" he asked, because he knew that she didn't want to go to Violet's, not yet at any rate.
Her face was completely clear, almost serene as she looked up at him. "There's someplace I haven't taken you yet," she said, and that was all she needed to say.
"Let's go then."
He followed her directions, finally pulling in on a side road, frowning as he looked around him. There were no buildings for miles, and she had him pull in beside a gate, which lead into a field, where the grass was neatly cut, no crops there. He wanted to ask her what they were doing here, but she'd already hopped out of the car, had gone over to the gate and had climbed up on it, standing on one of the middle rungs, her hands gripping the top as she looked out over the fields. He got out of the car too, standing with his arms folded on the roof watching her as she reached behind her, pulling her scrunchie out of her ponytail, allowing her hair to blow loose in the breeze, a blonde curtain rippling around her. She turned to look at him then, smiling, and he grinned in return, taking off his jacket and throwing it in the back seat, his tie going in the same direction, unbuttoning the top two buttons of his shirt as he walked towards the gate. When he got there, he rested his arms on top of it, looking up at her, not used to her being taller than him. "You want to explain this 'Min' thing to me?" he asked, enjoying the flush of red that crept up her cheeks.
"It's silly," she demurred, shaking her head, and he laughed.
"Now you've got to tell me," he ordered, and she sighed.
"Frank started it…back when Joshua was, what? About two? Momma wasn't doing so good then; it was the first time she'd really gone downhill - there were a lot of ups and downs to come. Anyway, I kinda took over taking care of him, and the rest of them…I mean, someone had to…" Her voice trailed off and she tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "I was about fourteen, Frank was about eleven…and he started calling me Mini-Mom as a joke. Joshua heard it so often and since Calleigh was a bit of a mouthful for him, he started calling me Min. And it stuck…family nickname I guess."
"Ah," he nodded, understanding now. "And…why are we here?"
She flashed him a wicked grin. "Come on and I'll show you." With that, she climbed up over the gate, quite a feat in that skirt he noted, leaving him no choice but to follow her as she walked through the field. It was getting quite hot out there, and he rolled up his sleeves as he walked. She was quite a few steps ahead of him, and she turned around, walking backwards, watching him, a grin on her face that was positively feral. "My, Timothy…" she drawled. "Don't we look handsome?"
Not that he was adverse to hearing those words from his lovely girlfriend's lips, but coming less than an hour after they'd buried the father that she hadn't seen in eleven years, Tim wasn't quite sure what to make of them. "You're feeling better," he observed mildly, and she shrugged her shoulders.
"I really am," she agreed, turning her back on him, continuing on her way. She didn't stop until they got to a tall structure in the corner, something that Tim hadn't noticed when he'd pulled up, so intent had he been on her. "This is why I brought you here," she said, looking up and crossing her arms, as Tim tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
He'd seen photos, had heard of them, but he'd never actually seen one before. "Is this a water tower?" he asked, amazement in his voice, and she nodded, eyes flicking to him briefly.
"Yep," she confirmed, walking around until she found the ladder, climbing up the first couple of rungs, looking at him as he looked at her in amazement. "Coming?" she asked, and he just stood looking at her, mouth agape.
"You're climbing up a water tower? In that dress?"
She rolled her eyes, pausing in her climb. "After three inch heels and a formal dress, this is nothing," she told him dismissively. "Come on."
Swallowing hard, Tim followed her, remembering the old adage about not looking down, and he didn't, not until they were standing on the ledge, leaning on the rail, looking out over the fields. Tim had to admit that it was quite a view, because they could see for miles, but he was still basically stuck on the whole formalwear issue. "Three inch heels?" he asked, smirking over at her, and she smiled right back, shrugging.
"It was prom night," she said, as if that made everything all right, and he lifted both eyebrows, blowing out a surprised breath.
"Mike said you were fearless," he murmured, and that made her turn surprised eyes on him.
"So you and Mike have talked about me, have you?" she asked, lips turning up in a teasing grin.
"This and that," was all he would tell her.
"What else did Mike tell you?" was her next question, and he frowned, trying to remember.
Then he remembered, a comment that had aroused his curiosity from the start. "Something about your father wanting to run him out of town on a rail for defiling his daughter?"
He expected her to laugh, at least to smile, but if anything, her face grew sad, almost melancholy. "Yeah," she sighed. "That was about prom night too."
"You want to talk about it?" he asked, when she didn't say anything else and she nodded, turning her gaze out across the fields.
"When Daddy was drunk," she said slowly. "He would hit us…his belt, his hands, anything he could get his hands on. We got good at running away, finding all kinds of places to hide. This was one of mine. I used to come out here all the time…you'd be surprised how easy it is to sleep up here in the summertime."
An image of Mike laughing suddenly danced across Tim's mind, something that he'd said the first time that Tim had met him, about Sally wanting Calleigh to come to dinner. "I come home and tell her you're in town and that I didn't ask you for dinner, I'm sleeping at the water tower tonight." That made sense to him now.
"Mike joined you?" he asked dryly, not even close to keeping the hint of jealousy out of his voice.
"No," she said, reaching over to touch his hand briefly. "Not like that. We did date, he was my date for prom, but nothing like that happened. Not until we were at Tulane together, during one crazy night in the French Quarter… but that's neither here nor there. I told you before about my father…that he was a racist. As you can imagine, he did not take kindly to my taking Mike as my date. He barely tolerated the fact that I was friends with him."
"I can imagine," Tim murmured, his hand reaching out, closing over hers on the rail.
"I never told them who I was going to prom with…Momma wasn't really in a state to care, and Daddy, well…" She paused. "We did the usual teenage stuff I suppose, dancing until dawn, and then we all came out here, a big gang of us, and had our own little party. Stayed out all night. I didn't think anything of it…not 'til I got home." Her voice trailed off again as she looked down. "Evidently, someone had told him about my being elected Prom Queen…and about how I looked dancing with Mike." Her eyes closed, and Tim knew that she was years in the past, reliving that morning. "I'd just changed my clothes when the door to my room flew open, and he came in…he was furious Tim, I'd never seen him so angry. He was drunk, I could smell the liquor on his breath, and I didn't know if it was from the night before, or from that morning…and I wanted to get away from him, but he was blocking the door, and I couldn't get by him…"
Her breath was coming faster and faster, her words more and more rushed, and Tim's stomach was churning, suddenly terrified at what she was going to say next. "He was screaming at me, asking me how I could do this, what was I thinking, didn't I know that the whole town was talking about me. Then he asked me why I was out so late, what I'd let Mike do to me…the things he said…" She looked away from him, but not before he saw the pain in her face, in her eyes. "I was almost relieved when the beating started."
"It didn't stay that way for long…he'd hit me before you know, but this was the worst it had ever been. I just remember lying there, on the floor, watching him walk out… Joshua was there, he was only eight, and I remember so clearly him asking what was wrong with me…Daddy told him that I'd drunk too much at the prom and that was why I was sick… I think that Joshua had seen him like that so much that he didn't question it."
"I don't know how long I stayed there like that, but I remember how much it hurt when I got up…and I waited, until I knew that he was gone out, and I got to the phone, and I called Mike, asked him to meet me here." A bitter smile twisted her lips. "It was the first time that I didn't climb up here, because I couldn't. Mike didn't know that at first, because Daddy hadn't hit me where people could see it, not on my face…Mike joked about it at first, then he saw that I'd been crying…that I was moving stiffly, and he made some quip about the effect of three inch heels…then he realised that I wasn't laughing, and he lifted up the back of my T-shirt…saw the marks."
"I'd never seen him cry before, but he did, when he asked me how come I hadn't told him. He knew that things were bad at home, but not that bad. He refused to let me go back there that night, took me back to his place, gave me his bed. I know he told his mom everything, not that she was surprised…nor any of his family I think. I stayed there for a couple of days, then I went home. Tried to stay out of my dad's way, not that that was hard because he didn't want to talk to me anyway. He never spoke to me again after that night. And I never spoke to him. That was when I knew I had to get out of there, had to leave. And when I went to college, that's exactly what I did."
"Mike and I…I never planned to become involved with him, though he told me later that he'd had a crush on me all the way through high school. He never said anything because he knew I didn't feel the same way. I don't know what changed once we got to college, but something did…he was my best friend, and then he just became something more." She turned to him with a smile. "Sounds familiar huh?"
He had to force a smile to his face, not because of the similarities, but because he was sickened by what she'd just told him. "Kind of."
"I think he knew before I did that we weren't going to work long term," she told him. "He decided that he didn't want to be a lawyer, that he wanted to go back home…that was the last thing I wanted. He knew that too. He told me when we were breaking up that he wanted me to come with him…that he'd protect me, keep me safe…but that he knew he couldn't ask me to do that. He knew I'd never be happy. So we split up, but we stayed friends…he's about the only person I kept in touch with from here."
She stood up straight then, turning to him, shrugging her shoulders. "So now you know everything. Why I left. Why I stayed away."
He shook his head, having visualised every word as she spoke them, unable to believe that anyone could be capable of something like that, though he supposed that since he'd seen her mother, he shouldn't really be surprised. "Why did you come back?" he asked, because if he'd been in her position, he wasn't sure that he would have.
"I don't know," she told him honestly. "Because I thought I should? Because I wanted to face my ghosts…maybe I thought I wouldn't believe it if I didn't see it for myself. All I knew was that I had to come. So I did."
"Mike was right about you," Tim told her, reaching out with one hand to cup her cheek. She closed her eyes, leaning into his touch, a small smile about her lips. "You are fearless."
"I'm not," she replied with a small chuckle. "There's no way I could have got through this without you."
"Yes you would," he said simply, because he knew it to be true, knew the strength of the woman he was dealing with.
She shook her head, but she didn't contradict him. "Then I'm glad I didn't have to," she murmured, stepping close to him, slipping her arms around his waist. She held him like that for a moment before she stepped away from him, setting her hands on the rail again, looking out across the fields. Tim stepped up behind her, sliding his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder. "You know," she breathed, "I used to come up here all the time. No-one ever knew about it, it was my hiding place. My secret. And I would come up here and I would look out at the fields, and I would dream about running away. Getting out of here and never coming back…getting away from everything, and everyone…I wanted that so badly. I was out of here the first chance I got, never came back…but it never felt like I stopped running. Not until now."
That did surprise him, and he looked at her askance. "Now?"
She turned her head to meet his gaze, smiling up at him. "Yep…and I didn't even realise that I had…just looked around me, and there I was."
They were the very words that he'd said to her the previous day, and he smiled, knowing what she was trying to tell him. "So," he surmised, wanting to make sure. "You don't want to run away any more?"
"No," she said simply, pressing her body back against his, not taking her eye away from his, tilting her head up in unmistakable invitation. He took it, lowering his head to hers, her words just before they met sending his heart soaring. "I'm already home."