A/N: This starts off darker than my usual stories, but I promise that it gets better. As always, your reviews and comments would be greatly appreciated.


A Heritage High Novel

The heart monitor beeped softly in the background, ranging from fifty-two to seventy beats per minute while the sound of the respirator seemed to echo off the room's pale yellow walls. Every so often the bed's small occupant would moan, her heart rate would leap up to over one-fifty, and I would hit the button on the morphine drip hoping to ease her pain and calm her down a bit.

She wore far fewer bandages than you would expect for a fifteen year old girl that had been violently raped and beaten almost to the brink of death. The cuts bruises on her face, neck, and arms were clearly visible above the stark white hospital sheets. Her eyes were nearly swollen closed, her nose was a puffy crimson, her lips were split and a small portion of her hair had been shaved so that they could suture a crack in her skull and a laceration to her scalp. I knew that underneath the standard hospital gown was a swath of bandages encircling her broken ribs and the lung that had had to be re-inflated after the sharp edge of one of her ribs had punctured it. I'd also been told that they were worried about injuries to her spleen as well as her liver, but they would have to see how things progressed. At least they had been able to staunch the internal bleeding.

Based on the swelling the doctors thought that both the ulna and radius bones of her right arm may have hairline fractures but it was still too soon to show up in the x-rays. Those would be defensive wounds from where she tried to protect herself from the fists that had literally tried to batter her into a bloody pulp and had almost succeeded.

Her legs had fewer cuts and bruises but that was only because he had been lying on her for most of the attack, his engorged penis still violently pumping in and out of her even as he continued to beat her. The doctors had run a rape kit and taken DNA samples from her bruised and torn vagina, but the perpetrator of the crime was already known given that the only reason she was still alive was that her father had caught him in the act.

The boy that had raped and nearly beaten her to death in her own bedroom while high in a cloud of crystal meth would never do such a thing to anyone ever again. Her father had seen to that as he beat the boy to death in a blind rage of fury and guilt. Fury because of the atrocities enacted upon his young, innocent daughter. Guilt because he had not been able to protect her from the physical and mental abuse inflicted upon her by her own brother.

Yes you heard me right. My best friend in the entire world currently lay unconscious in a hospital bed fighting for her life as a result of the insane and drug induced actions of her own brother while her father sat in a jail cell awaiting a pre-trial hearing on charges of second-degree murder.

The tale leading up to that violent night had begun only two short years earlier with the death of Renee Baker's mother at the hands of a drunk driver. Renee and I had been thirteen at the time and her mother's senseless death had hit the entire family hard. Her father, unable to cope with the loss of his life-mate had fallen into a bottle while her brother had devolved from a bright, happy fourteen year old boy into a sullen and angry drug addicted teen. Renee had done her best to keep her family together, taking on all of the duties that her mother had left behind along with trying to keep up with her own schoolwork and friendships. My parents and I had done our best to help whenever we could, but there was only so much we could do and even less that Renee would accept from us. While my friend had a heart of gold, she also had her pride and a stubborn streak a mile wide.

At school Renee was one of those girls that never really stood out. She wasn't one of the "popular" girls that everyone wanted to hang around with nor was she some star athlete or get phenomenal grades. She wasn't in the glee club, or the drama club or the band. She'd never been on a stage in her life even if she loved to dance probably more than anything else. She wasn't some stunning beauty, or the Goth chick everyone talked about, or the overweight girl everyone made fun of. She was simply Renee, a sweet girl with long brunette hair that fell about her shoulders in waves, with sparkling brown eyes that drew you in and a bright laugh that always brought a smile to your face. She never stood out in the crowd, but if you asked anyone in the school about her they would get this funny little smile on their face and then tell you about the time Renee helped them out with a problem they had or a difficult situation they were going through.

Yeah, she was that kind of girl and I had always considered myself blessed that she considered me to be her best friend.

In case you were wondering, my name is Marie Waters. I first met Renee the very day she moved into their house a little over ten years ago and we've been friends ever since. We'd played t-ball and then softball together, had been on the same youth soccer teams, and shared the same tastes in TV shows, movies and books although we liked different kinds of music. We've shared birthdays and sleepovers, all-night Harry Potter marathons and long talks by flashlight beneath the bedcovers. We shared the bright days of joint family get-togethers and the dark nights of pain and sorrow after her mother was killed. Renee was always there for me and I was always there for her; at least until the one night she really needed me.

Since it was a Friday night and the first day of school was well over a month away we had been planning to have another sleepover, this one at my house, but my parents suddenly decided that they wanted to go out for a romantic dinner since it was their anniversary. Of course I couldn't say no, that Renee and I had already made plans. How could I do that to them on their anniversary? They so rarely took the time just to be alone with each other that I just couldn't bring myself to be that selfish. Unfortunately one of the rules of the house was that I couldn't have friends over while my parents were out. That rule even extended to Renee. Their reasoning was that one exception would lead to another and then another, so they didn't allow any exceptions to that age old rule. If they had, maybe tonight's events might never have occurred.

Or it was just as possible that instead of one girl laying in the hospital it could have been two, but that wasn't the way my mind was working this evening as I hit the button for the morphine drip again when Renee started whimpering and cringing beneath the starched white sheets of her hospital bed. I didn't have a clue whether hitting the button would help or not. The machine was on a timer and I could hit the button all I wanted and nothing would happen until the timer allowed it to. I knew how much Renee hated drugs of any sort – after seeing what they did to her brother I can't really blame her – but neither could I sit here and helplessly watch her suffer. I'm sure the doctors could have set it up so that she got the pain killers she needed without my intervention, but they seemed to understand that I needed to do something, anything, to help my friend.

Right now I was blaming my parents for Renee being in that hospital bed. I knew in my heart that it wasn't their fault; that Bobbie could just as easily have come over to my house when he didn't find his sister at home. I knew deep down that he could have ended up raping or killing both of us since it would have been only the two of us in the house. It was only because Renee's father, Robert Sr., was at home that she wasn't instead lying on a metal table in the morgue next to her brother.

I'd first heard the sirens from the window of my bedroom where I had been pouting about the destruction of our evening plans. When the red lights began flashing across my bedroom walls I got up and took a look out the window to see police cars and two ambulances pulled up outside the Baker's home. When I saw the paramedics carrying Renee out on a stretcher and her father in handcuffs I totally freaked and went running out of the house in my pajamas and bare feet. The police wouldn't let me get near my friend as they bundled her into the ambulance, but I overheard them saying things about "rape" and "murder." I ran back home and called my mom's cell phone. I was crying and screaming when she answered, unable to speak coherently but enough must have gotten through to her because I heard her tell me they were coming home and that Mrs. Harris, a nice old neighbor lady that lived down the street, was going to come over and stay with me until they arrived.

I nodded as I hung up the phone, unable to speak again as horrific scenes of destruction and murder played across the backs of my eyes. I jumped and nearly screamed when a knock came on the front door to announce the arrival of Mrs. Harris. She is your typical, kindly old neighbor lady that could always be counted on in an emergency. When I say "old" I have to apologize because she's really probably only in her early sixties. Please remember that to a fifteen year old girl thirty is over the hill. Mrs. Harris calls herself a widow, but there have been rumors around the neighborhood for as long as I can remember that there may have never been a Mr. Harris. There was even a rumor that Mrs. Harris' long-time roommate, Mrs. Murphy, who passed away just before I was born, was really who she was "widowed" from.

Of course none of this went through my mind as the sweet woman did what she could to calm and comfort me, but it wasn't until my parents walked through the front door and I was just suddenly in my mother's arms that I finally began to calm down a little. My mother, Angelina, is an Assistant District Attorney for the county and she held me in one strong arm while she spoke into her cell phone.

"I don't care, George! I don't care if he hasn't been assigned an attorney yet, I want to see him and I want to see him tonight! Do you understand me! Good, just do what you have to and give me a call when it's set up," she said into her Blackberry before ending the call. "Honey, are you alright?" She asked me, bending over slightly and then following me to the floor when my legs gave way.

"It, it, it was…oh, god Mom!" I cried into her shoulder, not caring that I was ruining her pretty dress with my tears and snot.

"Shh, shh, honey, it's going to be all right," my mother cooed to me, running her hands through the rat's nest that had become of my short auburn hair. "I'm going to stay with you for a while until you calm down a bit, but then I'm probably going to head over to the station and see if I can talk to Robert. Your father's already on the phone with the ER to see what he can find out about Renee. When you think you can, I want you to go with your father to the hospital. Renee's going to need you to be there for her when she wakes up."

It's for this reason that I absolutely adore my parents. They didn't treat me like a child. They understood my needs and wants and did what they could to see that I had everything I needed and most of what I reasonably wanted. And they knew that right at that moment I needed to see my friend and assure myself that she was all right.

I nodded my head and tried hard to wipe my eyes. If it took my calming down to get to go see Renee then that's just exactly what I'd do.

"They've taken her into surgery," my dad, Geoffrey, said as he put a hand over his cell. "I've been called in to assist. Indications are for a subdural hematoma." He turned to look at me. "Do you think you can handle it? If not, you can stay here with Mrs. Harris, but if you think you can, then I need you to get dressed immediately. I've got to be there in about fifteen minutes and it's a normally a twenty minute drive."

"I'll be down in two," I told my dad, giving my mom a quick hug and then running up the stairs to throw on some pants and a t-shirt. I just grabbed a pair of socks and my sneakers to put on in the car. Before I hit the top of the stairs I turned and ran back to my room, picking up my cell and stuffing it in the front pocket of my jeans before running out again.

My mom was back on the phone when I came crashing down the stairs while my dad was in the study grabbing his medical kit. Mrs. Harris stopped me as I hit the first floor running, grabbing my arm to keep me from falling.

"Marie dear," she said in as calm a voice as she could, running her fingers through my hair with one hand while gently rubbing my arm with the other. "You need to be strong for your friend. She needs you now more than anything so you need to do whatever you can for her. That includes not getting hysterical. Do you understand?"

Her voice and manner were soothing and I gulped down great breaths of air to try to calm myself. The small smile she gave me as I took back control of my emotions did more for me than a splash of cold water and at that moment I loved her for it. I nodded again, breathing deeply and she took me in her arms and gave me a gentle hug.

"That's my girl," she said softly and placed a little kiss on my temple.

"Ready?" my dad called as he exited the study he and my mom shared, throwing his stethoscope into the ubiquitous black bag he always carried when he went to work.

"Yeah," I replied, pulling away from the elderly woman and giving her a peck on the cheek before turning and following my father out the front door.

"I'll call you when I know anything," my mother yelled out as we ran to the car that had been parked haphazardly in the driveway. My brain superficially noted the black rubber skid marks on the white concrete that I'd probably have to clean off at some point, but the thought was there and gone again as I jumped into the passenger seat of my dad's SUV and slammed the door shut.

Sitting all alone in the waiting room of the surgical center was pure torture. Every time the double doors swung open my head would pop up hoping to see my father or one of the other medical professionals working on my friend. As soon as we'd gotten to the hospital my father had received a recitation of Renee's injuries while I stood swaying back and forth, wanting to run to her, to be doing something, and yet having nothing to do but wait. Seeing the frown on my dad's face as the list continued wasn't as daunting as most would think. I knew my father's facial expressions and this was the one he used when he was listening intently. It gave no indication of what he thought of the situation, only that he was fully focused on the words he was hearing. He'd had a nurse walk me to the surgical waiting room, telling her that I was a cousin of Renee's so that no one would give me any hassles. I doubt that they would have anyway, but there was no use taking any chances and he knew there was no way I was going to just sit out in the car to wait to hear from him.

The smile my dad wore when he finally emerged through those ominous double doors as he took off his surgical mask was enough to tell me that Renee would live. The slight frown that followed indicated that there were still issues and that she wasn't out of the woods yet, but that he had high hopes for a complete recovery. It was exactly what I needed to see at the moment and I'm sure he knew that as well.

When he told me of all of her injuries and what they had done for her I nearly broke down again, but the hand he put on my knee, squeezing just hard enough to make it uncomfortable was enough to bring me back and remind me of Mrs. Harris' words.

"But she's going to be all right?" I asked in a tremulous voice. My dad smiled sadly before he spoke.

"I won't sugarcoat it for you, Marie. Her injuries aren't quite life threatening, but it's not going to be easy for her either. I drained the hematoma and the other surgeons stopped all of her internal bleeding and reset her ribs. She's going to be in a lot of pain and we're still not sure about some of it. Her arm may have some hairline fractures and we'll need to see about her liver and spleen. That will require some additional tests and scans…but honey," he stopped to take a deep breath before continuing. "She…she was pretty beat up and…she was…shit," I nearly gasped when he cursed. My dad never cursed so I knew it was bad. "I shouldn't even be telling you this, but she doesn't have anyone else…Marie," he said, taking hold of my hands, "she was raped."

At that I did gasp and put my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming as tears started to uncontrollably track down my cheeks.

"It…it was pretty bad. There were tears and there will be some scarring, but…but that's minor relative to the mental trauma she went through. She's sedated and we're giving her morphine for the pain. We hope to keep her out for a while so that her body has some time to heal. Still, I'm sure that most of the pain she's in now is not from the surgery, but from the beating she received and…and the rape."

"Is there anything I can do for her, Dad?" I asked just above a whisper, my mind swirling and trying to grasp all that he had said. The word "rape" just kept repeating in my brain, like the broken soundtrack of a horror movie.

"Just be there for her honey," he sighed and squeezed my knee again. "She's going to need counseling, but even more than that she's going to need your friendship. She's going to need some kind of normality in her life and someone she can count on not to run away from her just because of what someone else has done to her."

I was nodding my head, hearing and actually understanding the words behind the words my father was saying. Some might treat her like a pariah, a freak, just because of something done to her that she had no control over. I knew one thing already: if anyone tried that kind of shit when I was around they'd be looking for their teeth every time they took a crap! I guess my father saw the determination in my eyes because he gave me a smile, patted my knee one last time, and told me what room she would be in once she came out of recovery.

All of which led me to be sitting next to a hospital bed holding Renee's hand and occasionally pushing a button at the end of a wire, feeding morphine to my best friend and wondering if life would ever be the same for us.

"I'm here for you, Renee," I whispered as dried tear tracks crusted my cheeks. "I'll always be here for you."

The girl in the bed moaned, squeezing my hand tightly. I pushed the button again.