|Primary Characters:||Richard Kimble, Maggie, Chuck, Jean, mr Jones|
|Description:||While Kimble’s at home to see his dying father, he and his sister get a little confused. Later Maggie meets Chuck.|
Kimble hesitated before he typed the URL into the browser window. He knew perfectly well that Gerard would be monitoring the site, so any information that might be of interest to him, would be rendered useless. Still, the temptation was irresistible.
He had to know what was going on, and though he viewed the internet with suspicion, disapproval even, he knew that the site kept up-to-date info and would be best equipped to track down vital facts, and report them in. Chuck had raved about his brainchild, and though Kimble had only listened with half an ear, he had picked up on some of the features.
Oh, what was the harm? He might as well check it out. But at the moment, he had no intention of emailing the webmaster, no matter how sympathetic the kid was. Something about the way he had been looking at his idol had made Kimble wary of further involvement. He wasn’t homophobic, and in fact, he didn’t even think Chuck was gay, but this hero worship/crush was just a little embarrassing to put up with.
He’d met it often enough in his sister’s friends (all girls), sometimes among his patients (women and men) and even once or twice among his colleagues or nurses he’d worked with. When he was younger he’d found some of the attention flattering, but as he grew older he’d become increasingly indifferent. Now, he didn’t have any time to spare for distractions. All his energy had to be channeled into his struggle to stay one step ahead of his hunter, while continuing his own hunt.
Not used to browsing web pages, it was a while until Kimble’s eyes adjusted to the layout. Suddenly, something caught his eye. What? Not this on top of everything else. He’d known his father’s health was ailing, but this – so soon – was devastating.
This changed things. He had to get back home. Gerard would know and be on the scent, but that wasn’t anything he could take into account. If his dad was dying, he had to see him before it was too late. End of story. Whatever risk he ran was justified.
Deep down, he was glad he’d be able to see his sister too. Now more than ever, he missed Maggie. Even if they hadn’t seen much of each other in the past couple of years. They had both been too busy with their own lives. The memory of his sister brought a warm feeling to Kimble’s troubled mind. Maggie was terrific. He loved the way he knew she was standing up to Gerard. What a trooper.
Walking out of the cyber cafe, Kimble recalled how as a child he’d bossed his kid sister around mercilessly. Now those memories brought a feeling of guilt. Why did older kids always torment the younger? He’d been surprised to know that Maggie remembered things differently. She’d always looked up to him, admired him, supported him. Nothing would change that, he hoped. And if only this ordeal would be over, he’d be right back by her side. The feeling of not being there for her was gnawing at him as he crossed the street.
But he pushed away those thoughts for the time being. He needed to focus on making plans.
Later, on the phone, he gave Maggie his instructions, learning about his uncle’s resentment. Though he’d always known his uncle hadn’t been his biggest fan, that kind of stab in the back hurt. Especially now. Far worse though, was the lack of cordiality in his father’s greeting of him. He had thought his father still believed in him. In his innocence. And now this.
With seconds to spare, Kimble managed to find the key, unlock the door and slip inside, undetected, at least he thought so at the time.
Maggie was waiting for him in the kitchen, looking lovelier than ever. She seemed to have come straight out of the shower, smelling wonderfully clean, unlike Kimble himself. It had been days since his last shower and the stench of garbage still clung to his clothes after his unusual choice of transportation.
The warmth and the light in the kitchen, coupled with the emotional reunion between brother and sister, brought tears to Kimble’s eyes. He tried not to let Maggie see that. As the big brother he had a reputation to live up to. Superior. What a joke. Not so superior now, unshaven, and in ragged clothes.
Once she was in his arms, he didn’t want to let her go. He wanted to stay in this house, his home, with her, and never have to run again. Her body felt warm and soft against his. How odd that he’d never noticed just how beautiful and attractive his sister really was. Without a conscious thought in his head, Kimble held her even closer. Still not aware of any change in the way he reacted to her presence, he enjoyed the closeness. It had been so long since he’d held a woman in his arms.
He’d almost forgotten how soft they were, and what a pleasant fragrance clung to them. His nose was buried in her hair, and he found his hands trailing down her back and on to her ass. He kept his eyes firmly shut as he relished the sensation.
Neither one of them recognized any of the warning signals. It was far too sweet to once again be back together. They didn’t want the moment to ever end.
By now he was breathing shallowly, and he could hear her react the same way. His hands began to push down the dressing gown and –
What were they doing – This was insane. Their father was dying in the next room, he had a rabid cop on his trail and he was acting like a pervert. Guiltily he let go and turned away. How could he have allowed this to happen?
It was a while before he was able to get his breathing under control and even longer until he felt ready to face her again. He didn’t want to find that the trust and love in her eyes was gone, replaced by – what? But he had worried unnecessarily. She looked ashamed of herself, but not as much as he had feared.
“Maggie – I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me. Please, try to forgive me.”
“Of course. But it was just as much my fault. I could have put a stop to it anytime.”
“No. It wasn’t your fault. I have to go.”
Now a stupid and pointless argument followed. Should he go and speak to his dad? Maggie thought not. Kimble disagreed.
In the end, Maggie still didn’t think it was a good idea, but Kimble forced himself to ignore her judgment, rather like he had when they were kids.
He got away from his pursuer with only seconds to spare. Again. How long could his luck last? But this kind of thinking didn’t get him anywhere. Just like he had to stop dwelling on what had happened between him and his sister, he had to keep believing that he was given this chance to continue his search for the man who had killed Helen because he was right.
He had been unjustly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Though he didn’t share his father’s religious beliefs, he told himself his luck would last until he’d found the true culprit, because his cause was just. Things couldn’t be allowed to end with his death, executed for a murder he wasn’t guilty of.
His chase took him on a new complicated path and he lost touch with his sister.
It wasn’t long until Maggie began to worry. What if Richard’s guilt over what they had done – almost done – had caused him to do something rash? She had to talk to him again. What had happened between them was wrong, but they had stopped themselves in time, and after all Richard had been through, it wasn’t as unnatural as it might seem.
He was being hunted like a common criminal, and all the while, he was grieving over the loss of his wife. Maggie found that she could easily understand and forgive her brother’s reaction. Hadn’t she had a sort of crush on him for years? Of course she would never dream of acting on that impulse. But that didn’t mean she blamed him for the incident.
Though she waited anxiously by the phone for weeks, there was no call. Where was he? Had something happened to him? Something that Gerard didn’t know about. Anything could happen to him out there. Maggie was beginning to feel she’d had just about enough of this waiting and worrying.
Then she remembered that web site. It was odd to imagine her big brother as a celebrity rather like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, though she had to admit he was very handsome just like those actors.
Whatever. That site was useful. If anyone knew about Richard’s whereabouts it would be whoever was behind the site. Why shouldn’t she get in touch with the webmaster and check things out?
She didn’t have the internet at home. With the hours she kept, what use would that be? But that wasn’t a problem. At work there were computers everywhere. Her only concern was whether Gerard had been given permission to monitor any email going in and out of that site. She suspected not. Besides, the webmaster didn’t need to spell anything out in the email. If he seemed to know anything, she’d get in touch some other way.
Once she’d made up her mind, she waited until most of her colleagues had gone home to their families or friends. It wasn’t as if she had anyone waiting for her.
Her friends had mysteriously faded into the background when Richard was being tried for the murder of his wife. Maggie shrugged indifferently, dismissing those so-called friends. Blood was thicker than water anyway. And what goes around comes around. If they weren’t better friends than that, what would happen if they ever found themselves in trouble? Their karma would be shot. But that was their problem.
She didn’t need anyone or anything except her big brother safely back home with her. In all fairness, Cameron had shown some support so she wasn’t entirely alone. But she couldn’t get the kid involved in her and Richard’s problems.
There it was. The webmaster’s email. She wondered who would be hiding behind the anonymous name. Man or woman? Young or old? But that wasn’t important, as long as the person had the information she needed.
She typed a deliberately undetailed query into her email and pressed send, still giggling silently over the name she’d chosen for her new anonymous email address. Fortunately, she knew a thing or two about the internet, unlike Richard who proudly proclaimed himself computer illiterate. There were ways of making sure the email was anonymous. And who would ever guess who was calling herself MsSuperior? If Richard could play that game, so could she.
Though she didn’t know it, she was being a little too clever for her own good.
The anonymous email immediately aroused Chuck’s suspicions. This seemed to be a trap. Probably not one set by Gerard, but it could easily be that tattoed bitch who was chasing Kimble just as ardently as Gerard. She wouldn’t learn anything from Chuck, he would make sure of that.
When Maggie got the unhelpful reply to her email, her temper flared. Who did he think he was anyway, that computer geek? She’d go and see him in person and make him turn over any information he had. Richard was her brother, not some online franchise. Next there’d be t-shirts and bandannas. Not if she could help it.
Now all she needed to do was find the guy hiding behind the site. And as it happened, Internet World had featured an informative article about the site not so long ago. Where was that magazine now? Yes, in the bottom drawer of her desk. She had intended to read it more extensively later.
The article didn’t specify exactly who it was running the site, but it did provide enough information for Maggie to find the town he was based in. From there, she imagined it would be easy to find the guy himself. She didn’t seriously think it was a woman who would dedicate all her energies to making such a web site, though anything was possible.
About a week later, she arrived in the town where the webmaster supposedly lived. She had taken some of her remaining sick leave and done her best not to dwell on the way the dean had looked as she was asking permission. They wouldn’t get rid of her that easily. If they wanted Richard Kimble’s sister to leave they’d have to fire her.She hadn’t committed any crime and neither had Richard.
And may she who is without guilt cast the first stone. The dean, as everyone working at the university was well aware of, was prone to shop-lifting, periodic drinking and had a tendency to sleep with any male professor who would have her. Preferably on the job, rather than at home, where her husband might object.
Shaking her head defiantly, Maggie checked into the hotel. Without even bothering with dinner, she began searching for her informant, willing or not. There was no man alive who would resist her interrogation.
Towards evening, Maggie’s feet hurt, she was in dire need of a snack, and she was beginning to think that finding the webmaster wasn’t quite as easy as she’d first anticipated. But she refused to give up. This guy was her only lead to her brother’s situation and she wouldn’t stop until she’d unearthed the guy.
She returned to the hotel to have dinner, and to review her options. When she feel asleep that night, she was still more determined than ever to meet the mysterious webmaster face to face.
The next day, she had a bit of unexpected luck. She was in book store, buying something to keep her from being bored in the evenings, when she happened to overhear the conversation between two middle-aged ladies. From what she could gather, they had a friend, whose son was a bit of a misfit. The ill-concealed glee at their friend’s misfortune rankled Maggie and she was filled with sympathy towards this unknown woman, and even more her son.
She hadn’t expected to find any useful information in the gossip, but one of the ladies mentioned a web site, and it became clear to Maggie, that here she had her webmaster. Now all she needed was the guy’s address. And though the ladies didn’t look too helpful, she decided to pretend she thought so anyway.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for an internet cafe or a library. I need to check my messages. You wouldn’t be able to tell me where I can find one of those places?”
The lady who had been approached, sniffed in contempt at the mention of the disreputable term internet, but made a visible effort to be polite despite everything.
“I wouldn’t know where there are any of those – cafes. The library is closed for repairs this month.”
“Oh, dear. Isn’t there any other place I could go to?”
“Like I said, I wouldn’t know. My friend mrs Brixius might know. Her son is one of those computer experts. But personally, I have no idea. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.”
“Thanks anyway. I’ll just keep looking.”
You’ve already helped me enough, lady, Maggie thought to herself. Now all she needed was a phone book. Brixius couldn’t be a very common name.
She was right about that. There was only one listing. Mrs Brixius. Obviously, her son must still be living at home with his mother. Could he be that young? Or – Maybe he was one of those computer geeks who never bothered with life outside his room. Maggie had met a few of those at work. How they managed to work for a living was a well kept mystery.
The address didn’t mean anything to her, but after asking around, she was able to find her way to the house, quite easily. No one appeared to question her interest in the Brixius household.
Once in the street outside the Brixius house, Maggie paused to consider her next move. She could simply walk up to the house and ask for the webmaster of drrichardkimble.com, but somehow she didn’t think that would be too popular with the mother.
As she was slowly walking up the street, trying not to appear suspicious, she again had a bit of luck. She saw a woman leaving a smaller house in the yard. And before the door closed behind this woman, she had caught a glimpse of a young man standing in the doorway. That had to be him.
Waiting until the older woman had disappeared inside the big house, Maggie opened the gate and walked in.
Hoping no one would confront her about her business, she stepped up to the door of the smaller house and knocked. After a few minutes, in which Maggie was wondering if they guy had seen her from one of the windows and wasn’t going to let her in, the door did open just a crack. The guy who was staring at her in a none-too-friendly way was kind of cute, but very young. Maggie estimated he was no older than her students. For some reason this made her feel disappointed.
“Hi, can I come in?”
“What do you want?”
“I’m interested in your web site. DrRichardKimble.com.”
“Oh, yeah? You and a dozen other nosy bitches. No reporters are welcome here, so you might as well just go back where you came from.”
This was hardly how Maggie had imagined this meeting would take place, but she’d come too far to let herself be discouraged by this young man’s bad manners. She found herself pitying the poor mother even more.
“Listen, I’ve come a long way to find out where Richard Kimble might be and I won’t let you give me this crap about reporters. This is a matter of life and death, you little punk.”
Angrily glaring back at her, the kid seemed at a loss for words. Maybe he was beginning to regret his rude outburst, or else he was merely planning his next round of abuse.
“Uh – What’s your name?”
“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry. You’re his sister, aren’t you? I didn’t recognize you from the photos of the trial. You look so -“
Maggie wasn’t in a mood to be distracted from her purpose.
The guy broke off uncertainly, and his face was suffused with a vivid, hot pink. Oops, had she just made a conquest?
“Does this mean I can come in?”
“Oh – Sure. Please.”
Inside, Maggie had most of her prejudices against computer nerds confirmed. Despite that, there was something endearing about the guy. Pathetic, but endearing.
“Well – You know my name -“
Again, the cute pink spread across the guy’s open, innocent face.
“Sorry. My name’s Chuck. Mrs -“
“Oh, just call me Maggie. Please, Chuck, you have to help me. I haven’t heard from Richard for weeks. I’m afraid -“
Maggie took a closer look at Chuck’s face. Was it just her imagination that he took on even more color on hearing her request? It struck her that this kid must have had a bit of a crush on Richard.
Maybe the kind of hero worship Maggie often saw at her own place of work. Usually it was girls looking up to male teachers, but she’d had her share of wide-eyed boys admiring her from afar. And once in a while, her male colleagues would get a young male admirer. In fact, once, when she first began working in the university, she’d had a senior ask her for a date. She’d turned him down, adding that he was welcome to ask again after graduation. And he had. They’d been going out for about six weeks until he got a job in California and moved away.
“Uh – nothing. Sorry. I’m afraid I don’t know where he is right now. It’s not as if he checks in. The last sighting of him was in Philadelphia, but you’d know that.”
To Chuck’s astonishment, this made his visitor blush as much as he had just done.
“Yes. You’re sure there hasn’t been any other indication of where he might be?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
Oh. After all her trouble, Maggie had never imagined she wouldn’t get the information she wanted.
By now, it seemed Chuck had regained some of his composure.
“Wow. I can’t believe I’m standing here talking to dr Kimble’s sister. Maybe – No.”
“You wouldn’t want to give some more background info? For the site. About what it was like growing up with him.”
“I don’t get it, Chuck. My brother isn’t a murderer, but neither is he an actor, or a rock star. He isn’t a hero of any kind. Just an ordinary man whose life is in shambles right now. So why do you make this tribute to him?”
Chuck didn’t reply. He appeared discomfited by the question. Too late, Maggie realized that it was a very personal question. What motivated anyone to maintain a huge well-visited web site? Her guess was that something was missing in their personal lives.
And she hadn’t come here to disillusion this guy further. He was obviously a very talented web designer and seemed to have a talent for organizing facts. If he’d been one of her students she was sure she would have been able to subtly guide him a direction where his talents might be of use.
“Never mind, Chuck. I’m sorry. Look, I’m a bit tired. But I’ll be happy to tell you a bit about our childhood later. Now I think I should go back to my hotel room.”
To her astonishment, Chuck appeared to find that development disappointing. His face fell, and she thought she could detect signs of regret in his eyes. Surely he couldn’t be all that lonely? Or was he looking for a date? Maybe. If so, he was out of luck. Maggie rarely dated guys this young and right now, she wasn’t dating at all.
“You really have to go? Wouldn’t you like to stay and have lunch with me?”
It was way past lunchtime, more like early dinner by now, but Chuck didn’t seem to notice. What Maggie did notice was that there didn’t seem to be that many facilities for cooking in the sparsely furnished room.
“I don’t think – Chuck ungracefully lumbered over to the fridge, but hurriedly shut it again.”
“I’ll call for takeout.”
Strangely enough, Maggie found herself drawn to this mysterious guy. Besides, dinner at her hotel or takeout in this place, what was the difference anyway?
The guy’s face lit up so much that Maggie too instantly felt better. It had been a while since anyone had been that pleased to be around her. Not since Richard – Better leave that thought alone for a while.
“Chinese or Italian?”
Maggie considered the offer. After all the trouble she’d been through lately, she really wanted something filling. Why not Italian? With all the running around she’d done, she must have lost weight. Besides, she hadn’t been eating very well since Richard – Funny, how her superior older brother kept intruding on her thoughts.
For now, she’d just enjoy the company of this new acquaintance. He wasn’t the type of person she’d normally spend time with, but maybe it was about time she broadened her horizons? Computers were fun, so maybe the typical computer geek could be fun too. She’d definitely give him a chance.
“Cool. I love that.”
Half an hour later, they were sitting at Chuck’s table, talking, getting to know each other. It wasn’t until now that Maggie realized how much she’d missed this simple chit-chat with a friend. How long had it been since she’d done something like this? Too long. Before Richard’s trial. Now dad was gone, her husband had become a stranger, her brother was a hunted fugitive, and – What else did she have in her life? Not a lot. Her cousin Cameron, but how often did they see each other? Cameron’s dad didn’t approve.
It seemed Chuck enjoyed her company no less. He was opening up to her in a way he hadn’t done since he was a child. This woman was everything he was looking for in a woman – and she was Richard Kimble’s sister. Hero worship and physical attraction came together in one very appealing package. He couldn’t ask for more. But here she was, answering his questions, teasing him in a friendly way, in short – she seemed to appreciate his companionship almost as much as he appreciated hers. The crush rapidly turned into infatuation.
To her astonishment, Maggie found that behind the boyish exterior hid a much more fascinating personality than she’d ever guessed. Educated, though she got the impression he’d never finished his degree, if he’d ever gone to college. But far more than anything, Maggie found herself drawn to his boyish enthusiasm. It seemed that while he still had that childlike admiration for her brother, he was rapidly forming a similarly high opinion of her. What she hadn’t bargained on, was the growing attraction she felt for this – kid.
“So – I guess you know everything about me. Judging by the site.”
Again, Chuck blushed. Apparently, now that the people he’d showcased on his web site had become real living persons, he had begun to think about what he was doing.
Maggie had never intended to embarrass him, so she hurriedly reassured him.
“Not that I mind. What I’ve seen on the site so far, hasn’t been offensive in any way. Very impressive, by the way. The whole site, the information – all of it.”
Though he seemed to enjoy the praise, he still appeared to be a little shy of his guest. Shy, but boyishly pleased to have her.
“I don’t know everything about you at all. Just what I can find in public archives. The real you -“
“Yeah? What about me?”
After her long journey, and her desperate search, not to mention the grave disappointment when she learned Chuck couldn’t tell her anything about her brother’s whereabouts, Maggie was beginning to relax.
It had been a very long time since she’d been with someone this young and idealistic – or someone as unashamedly attracted to her. There was no denying it was sweet after so long as the shunned outcast, the sister of a man guilty of a heinous crime.
“I couldn’t put anything about the real you on the site.”
His shy smile was very gratifying and Maggie found herself more and more drawn to her host. But if she wasn’t careful the situation would escalate beyond her control. That was something she hadn’t bargained for.
“Why don’t you show me the site? I’ve looked at it before, but you could really explain the ins and outs of it. And give me a hint or two about web design. I might start something for my students one day.”
“You’d really like that?”
Chuck’s face lit up even more.
“Yes. If you have time.”
“Time? I have nothing but time on my hands.”
Maggie sensed a searing disappointment behind the simple words. No, this wasn’t a happy person. One day she’d like to probe into his past, and see if she couldn’t do something to heal his pain. But for now, she just smiled and accepted his offer.
She wasn’t merely being polite. As she had found herself increasingly alone, she’d longed for a new hobby, something to help pass the time after work. A new lover would have helped more, and if Chuck got his wish, maybe she could get both. But she wouldn’t go there. Just yet anyway.
They spent close to an hour poring over drrichardkimble.com, then moved on to Chuck’s own home page, which was far more minimalistic, but very appealing. Maggie felt that the site really mirrored the true Chuck. Being allowed to share that personal information gave her a very intimate feeling.
And since Chuck had been this open to her, it was only fair if she treated him the same way. She found herself sharing personal secrets, things she’d only confided in Richard, her ex and a few of her closest friends.
Just like she’d feared, one thing led to another and she and Chuck came to drift just a little closer. At first the slight touches might easily be explained away as accidental, but soon that wasn’t an option anymore.
Maggie knew she’d either have to reject Chuck outright or else – the latter alternative was beginning to seem increasingly attractive. It had been so long, and being loved was such a powerful aphrodisiac. She had to be strong for both of them – but –
When she woke up, there was a second of disorientation. She had no idea where she was. Or who she was with. Now she discovered that she was lying closely entwined with – Who was this? For a horrible second the weeks that had gone by since her father’s death were gone. Was she lying in bed with Richard? Her own brother. No. He was gone. Missing. That’s why –
And with that realization, her memory came rushing back. An intense relief flooded through her. Then her mind began to work again. This was a mistake. The kid was as young as her students. How could she have been this irresponsible? None too gently, she disentangled herself and began a frantic search for her clothes.
A noise from behind her, made her turn and face Chuck, guiltily. He seemed to be at least half asleep. For a second, Maggie almost relented, but everything was just too much for her at the moment, and she continued her blind rush to safety.
What was wrong with her? First she nearly ended up in bed with her brother, and now this. Sleeping with a kid young enough to be one of her students. Apparently, the entire business with Richard’s troubles had turned her head. She’d have to take a sabbatical, maybe travel. Anything to get back to normal. This wasn’t her.
Back at her hotel room, she sat down at the desk, trying to sort through her feelings. Was it really as bad as she her first reaction had led her to believe? Chuck wasn’t a child, certainly not a minor. Whose business was it who she slept with? Maybe his mother wouldn’t feel the same way, but at the moment, she could only allow herself to consider her own feelings, and Chuck’s. If this made them happy, who had the right to judge them?
Another consideration was whether she could trust a guy this young. But regardless of age, men weren’t to be trusted, her ex had taught her that. Why not let herself enjoy the only good thing that had happened to her in a long time? Yes. She wasn’t going to let that vicious cop Gerard ruin her life, and she certainly wasn’t going to bow to petty-minded people, trying to judge her for circumstances in her life that simply didn’t concern them.
What would Chuck be going through right now? She had to get back to him and straighten things out. This was as good a time as any to check on his intentions. If he wanted this as much as she did, then to hell with everyone else.
The sound of the door slamming shut was like a slap in the face. He should have known it was too good to be true. How could a woman like Maggie want a loser like him? Suddenly, he was wide awake, his mind in chaos, just like when he’d been released from the hospital. Where were those Prozacs? Since he’d created the web site, he hadn’t felt the need for any medication. Now –
No. He mustn’t crawl right back into the numb safety of druginduced peace of mind. That was exactly why no one liked him in the first place, except for his mom. What an idiot he was. Someone like Maggie couldn’t possibly care about someone like him. A loser, a nobody, a total failure at everything he’d ever tried to achieve.
Out of habit, Chuck fled to his computer. A couple of new emails had arrived, but right now, he couldn’t care less about the site or anything else.
A noise from the direction of the door made him look up. Who could it be at this hour? His mother would be asleep. Surely it couldn’t be that jerk, Gerard, come back to harass him some more? Or that tatooed bitch who would sacrifice anyone or anything for a story.
But when he answered the soft knock, Maggie was standing on the doorstep. The look on her face hinting that maybe he’d been too hasty. All this might have been a huge readjustment for her, just like for him. She didn’t say anything, though there was a question in her eyes, which Chuck answered by pulling her into his arms. Whatever he’d been through in the past was worth arriving at this moment. He could hardly ever remember being this happy.
Though he knew it wasn’t safe to contact her, Kimble couldn’t get Jean out of his mind. It had been a bad idea, showing up at her place, he’d known that all along. He’d put her life at risk – and that guy, Brian’s. Even if the guy hadn’t made a very sympathetic impression, Kimble had no right to get him killed. He was out of Jean’s life, and that meant he couldn’t judge the men she was dating. But deep down, he didn’t want her to be seeing that guy. Already, he’d proven to be unreliable, and though that might have been out of a wish to keep Jean safe, it hadn’t endeared him to Kimble.
What if – No. The message he’d already sent Jean would have to be enough. But still, his mind wouldn’t leave the possibility alone. If somehow he could device a safe way of contacting her… Maybe she still had that email address. It was worth a shot.
The next time Kimble was near an internet cafe, he decided he’d take a chance and contact Jean. But first he owed it to Maggie to let her know he was safe. Who knew what she might be agonizing over, after this long period without any contact. What if she felt he was blaming her for that incident? Poor little Maggie. Her big brother really knew how to screw things up, not only for himself but for everyone. And she was the last person in the world he wanted to hurt. Maggie and Jean.
After sending the email to Maggie, signed mr I M Superior, Kimble took a minute to reflect on what handle he’d be using this time. He’d never been audacious enough to pull that Superior stunt on Jean, and though he suspected the girls had exchanged information about him, he couldn’t take it for granted. Besides, it would be sending the wrong message to Jean. What about – Yes. That would do it. There was no way she would mistake him for anyone else, but that bastard Gerard would never guess who was hiding behind the nickname.
Dear Jean, I couldn’t help getting in touch again. After spending a little time with you, I realize how much I’ve missed you, and working with you. You have no idea how much it meant to me, meeting you again. I hope you’re both safe, and that there will be no repercussions. MrJonesSr
Before sending the mail, Kimble sat staring at the screen, without really seeing the email. He didn’t regret meeting and marrying Helen, but he couldn’t help thinking that if he hadn’t been such a fool, he might have been safe at home with Jean.
But that kind of thinking didn’t get him anywhere, and it might even be dangerous in the long run. Demoralizing. He had to stay focused, or Gerard would catch him long before he’d caught his own bad guy. With no further hesitation, he pressed send, and logged out. Another email account he’d never be able to use again.
Maggie was sitting at Chuck’s table, having a rather unusual breakfast. The orange juice was the only thing familiar from her own life. As for the rest – well, all she could say for it was that it contained a lot of energy, enough to jumpstart anyone’s day. This couldn’t be allowed to become a habit.
If his smile got any wider, his face would surely split in two. Maggie couldn’t help returning the happy grin.
“I’m sorry. This has been amazing. But it’s time for me to go back to work.”
The smile vanished as if a cloud had passed across the sun. Suddenly, the room felt colder, more colorless.
“When will I see you again?”
“Soon, I hope. I’ve been working far too hard in the past couple of months. From now on, I’ll try not to overdo it. It was just that – it was better to keep busy. My friends – well, you know what happened to them.”
“Yes. I don’t know why people are always so quick to judge. Even if they’re convinced dr Kimble’s guilty, that doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
“I know. Anyway, I have to get back to work while I still have one to get back to. I’ll call you as soon as I get back. Promise. And you can call me, any time.”
“Ok. Count on it.”
“What will you tell your mother?”
He knew exactly what she meant, but she had nothing to worry about. If there was anything in the world his mother wanted more than anything, other than his getting a proper job, it was for him to start dating. Women. Though she’d never said anything, Chuck knew his mother was worrying about his sexual preferences. Not that she’d ever actually ask him. Maybe it would have been easier if she had. Anyway, the age difference was nothing.
“I’ll tell her I’ve met you, and that I love you. Don’t worry. She’ll be thrilled. Next time I’ll introduce you to mom.”
“If you’re sure. Most of the parents of my students wouldn’t be all that happy about me dating their sons.”
“But I’m not your student. Besides, I am over 21. I’ve got my ID somewhere around here, if you don’t believe me.”
Chuck sounded hurt at the implication.
“Of course I believe you, silly. If I hadn’t do you think I’d have – Never mind. Don’t answer that. The problem is, your mom knows too, but I don’t think that will make a difference.”
“She’ll be crazy about you. I just know she will.”
Maggie wasn’t nearly as sure of that as Chuck seemed to be. But he was right about one thing. Even if his mother objected, there was nothing she could do to stop them. Over 21 was over 21, whatever you thought about it.
“Just in case, would you please check if your mom is about? I wouldn’t want to meet her face to face after sneaking out of your place in the morning. It would be kind of hard to explain that away.”
“If you insist. But I want to come to the airport with you, and say goodbye properly.”
Not a good idea. She wasn’t ashamed of her relationship with Chuck, but she’d rather wait a while until she felt less emotionally fragile before facing the public’s reaction. Or maybe she was overreacting. She wasn’t all that much older than Chuck. It wasn’t as if she could be his mother.
“Not this time, ok. I need to get back to normal, and I can’t do that with you around making me happy.”
“Am I making you happy?”
“At least I’m getting there. If I weren’t so worried about Richard – That reminds me. Could I check my email before I go?”
Maggie logged onto her primary account, not really expecting anything interesting. But that name – It had to be him. With slightly shaking hands, she opened the email. Yes. It was him.
“No. Quite the opposite. Richard’s been in touch. He’s alright.”
What a relief. They hugged and kissed, as if to celebrate the good news.
“Ok, that’s it. If you don’t stop now, I’ll never get back home.”
“Me? Look who’s talking. I’ll tell you what, if you remove your hands from my -“
“Ok. Deal. Chuck – weren’t you supposed to back off a bit?”
“Oh, sorry. I guess my attention wandered a little. It’s not every day I get to -“
Struck by a sudden horrifying thought, Maggie felt she had to risk offending Chuck just to find out the truth.
“Chuck, please tell me it wasn’t the first time for you.”
His reaction wasn’t reassuring at all. Again, she was treated to the very endearing display of pink on his cheeks. Oh, no. She’d –
“No, of course not. I met someone while I was in that hospital. Myra. She was a little older than me. For about four days I was the happiest kid in that place. Then I found out that I was just one in a long line of other happy kids – and a few orderlies. Anyway, I did date for a while in school.”
“Oh. I’m sorry I had to ask.”
Yes. He’d have been much happier if she hadn’t. So what if this had been his first time? At least she couldn’t have a clue about who the last person he’d been in bed with was. The memory of that incident still haunted him, but he was determined to put it right out of his mind. It had never happened. Denial came easily to him after all his years in an institution.
“Never mind. Now you know. So, I guess I have to go inside the house and distract mom while you get away. I’ll miss you so much.”
“I’ll miss you too. Look, why don’t you come and visit next weekend? If you can get your mom to agree to that.”
“It’s none of her business. But she won’t mind. You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right. Now I really need to get going.”
At least her luggage was already here. She’d called the hotel and canceled her room, and gone back to pick up her things, the morning after –
After a few more minutes of behavior that wouldn’t have been tolerated at her college, at least outside of her office, she was finally able to tear herself away. She was stunned to realize that she missed Chuck every bit as he appeared to be missing her already, the minute she was out of his arms. Yes, he’d better call and come and see her the next weekend, or she’ll be back inside this house again.
Jean didn’t check her email very often these days. After the first euphoria had passed, the internet was just another distraction that kept her from focusing on her work. But she needed to check in at least once a week. There might be something work-related, if not anything personal.
That was odd. She wasn’t expecting anything in particular, but there it was. An email from – When she caught sight of the name of the sender, her heart seemed to stop beating for a second. Of course, as a doctor she knew that was nonsense. Richard.
After reading the mail, her eyes filled with tears. How could she ever have forgotten how much she loved Richard?
Yes, we’re both safe. Me and our baby.
As she read and re-read the short email over and over again, Jean’s hands went on petting the cat on her lap. She could still remember it so clearly, the day they’d both gone to the shelter to pick up the skinny little kitten. Richard had said that though they didn’t have time for human kids just yet, mr Jones would have to be their only child for the time being. And he still was. When your name’s been cleared, we’ll do something about that, Richard. Until then, mr Jones and I’ll just stay here, waiting for you.