CHAPTER 25

Gina walked alongside Rick through the park. She took in the fresh air and the comforting warmth of the sun. Since Sonya's death, Gina had finally managed to go on with her day without breaking down in tears. Still though, even though it seemed like there were no longer any tears left for her to shed, she still felt the heaviness of the loss deep in the pit of her stomach. It still hurt to breathe, to live. Rick had passed by to see how the family was doing. Beatrice still refused to see anyone and Heather had already gone somewhere. That left Gina alone with him. Rick managed to convince her to let him take her out for a while.

"Come on, you need the distraction," he'd told her.

So he took her out for coffee where they sat quietly. Gina wasn't in the mood to talk and Rick respected that. She appreciated how okay he was with just simply being there with her. He had no idea how well that made her feel. Now they strode through the park and Gina's day seemed so much better. She looked over at Rick with deep appreciation. He smiled sheepishly at her.

"You seem much better," he said as they stopped in front of a bench underneath a large tree and sat down.

"Thanks," Gina mumbled, "It's because of you."

"What are friends for?" Rick said with a hint of disappointment appearing in his voice when he mentioned the word "friends".

"You've truly been a good one," Gina nodded, her face tensing up. "I'm sorry I've been such a bitch to you. I've been really inconsiderate about your feelings towards me."

Rick shrugged, forcing a smile to lessen the awkwardness of the conversation, "Hey, you can't help who you love, right? I just wish you weren't so hung up on a guy who doesn't see you the way …"

"… The way you do?" Gina asked when Rick remained quiet.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to take the conversation into deep territory."

"Don't worry, it's taken a long time but I'm finally giving up on Derek," Gina said, the same old bitterness returning to her voice. Her eyes grew tense and full of resentment, "It's stupid of me to keep obsessing over a man who doesn't think twice of me. I just wish he and Heather would go away forever somewhere far away from here. That way I would never have to see either of them."

Rick frowned, "It hurts to see them together, doesn't it?"

"It does. I really did like him," Gina nodded and suddenly noticed she was going on too much about Derek. She decided to drop the topic. Instead, she turned to Rick, her curiosity suddenly coming to life. "I passed by your place the other day. I saw you leaving with a girl so I didn't want to interrupt and get in the middle of any plans you might have had."

"Oh," Rick said with surprise. Gina could see his cheeks turning red. "Yeah, I've … sort of been trying to date."

Why did Gina feel a pang of unease hearing this? Rick suddenly looked at Gina intently.

"I was a fool, though," he continued, "To think I could just get over you by dating a bunch of different girls. I know, look at me, I'm an idiot that just doesn't get the hint."

"You're not an idiot."

Rick chuckled, "Look at the both of us. You love someone who's in love with someone else while I'm here madly in love with you when you don't feel the same about me."

Gina stared at him sadly, not knowing what to say.


Hotel

Heather arrived at the hotel and went to meet Derek and his mother at the hotel restaurant. When she got there she immediately saw them sitting at a table in the far end of the room. She strode over to them and they both stood to greet her. Heather hugged Debra and gave Derek a quick peck on the lips.

"Thanks for meeting me," she said to them as they all took their seat.

"Is everything alright?" Derek asked with concern, "You sounded a little strange."

"I had to speak to the both of you about something your father did," Heather replied to Derek, she looked at Debra. "I felt you needed to know this too."

Debra now looked worried and felt uneasy, "What has he done?"

Heather took a moment before telling them what Beatrice had told her. Derek and Debra looked shocked.

"He stole from the company?" Debra said, stunned.

"He has been for a very long time," Heather said, "Which is why the company has been doing so poorly and the funds have been low."

Derek shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing, "Are you sure? I mean, I know my father isn't the greatest man on the planet but is your step-mother sure?"

"Yes," Heather nodded, "The police found his finger prints on the safe where he recently stole money from. Derek, Debra, I'm sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but the police are searching for him."

"Searching," Debra asked, her eyes widening, "You mean they haven't arrested him? He's actually missing?"

"He's ran off to God knows where," Heather replied, hating the look of hurt she was seeing on both Derek and Debra's faces. Derek rested his face against his hands for a moment before looking up at Heather.

"I'm so embarrassed by what he's done, Heather," he said to her, visibly shaken and furious. "I'm sorry for what my father's done to you and your family's company. I … I don't know what to say."

Heather grabbed his hands and squeezed them, "Hey, it's not your fault. Neither of your fault. Gregory did this on his own."

"They'll catch him," Debra told her, beginning to feel sick, "If the police are searching for him they'll eventually catch him."

"I hope so," Derek muttered angrily.


Wades Mansion

The house was empty. Dorothy had the day off which left Beatrice all alone. She dragged her feet into Sonya's room and looked around. Everything was just as Sonya had left it the day of her death. Beatrice went over to Sonya's bedroom and took her daughter's inhaler from the nightstand, bringing it up to her mouth and kissing it softly as she cried silently.

Feeling a little dizzy, Beatrice put the inhaler back down and turned to leave the room. She walked slowly down the hall to her room and entered it. She stood in the middle of the room and stared at the now empty bedframe that once held her mattress with Sonya's blood on it.

She looked around the room and how clean it was. The spot on the floor where part of Sonya's blood had gotten on was now spotless. It was hard to believe that someone had shot themselves in that very same room only days before. Beatrice's heart ached and a knot formed in her throat.

She couldn't forget what she'd done, what she had caused. Her poor daughter was dead because of her. Beatrice felt her anxiety beginning to rise as she realized her guilt was beginning to chew at her conscious – slowly destroying her. It was starting to get difficult to breathe, Beatrice realized and soon she was hyperventilating. She clawed at her chest and undid a couple of the buttons of her blue satin blouse.

Bursting out of her room, Beatrice made her way down the quiet house. She passed by the large arch window where Alison had fallen through and she got a cold chill all over her body. This only made her panic more. Suddenly she started to hear the soft sounds of music. She looked around desperately wondering where it could be coming from when she realized it was coming from downstairs.

Alison's piano.

Beatrice's eyes widen with fear and her body started to shake. Still, she forced herself to walk down the stairs. It was one of Alison's old songs she used to play for Heath when they were married. Beatrice couldn't believe it. She quickly went to the kitchen and into the laundry room where she grabbed a large hammer. She returned to the foyer and started to make her way towards the family room.

As she got closer, the piano's music started to fade until it finally stopped the moment she stepped inside the room. She stared at Alison's old piano with tremendous fear. It looked ominous, like a large monster sitting there staring at her, knowing all her deep dark secrets and hungry for vengeance.

"You're dead," she said hoarsely, "You're dead so leave me alone!"

Beatrice went to the piano and started smashing the large hammer down onto it. She smashed and smashed, breaking the keys, the lid, the legs all while the horrible sound of keys and piano wires broke and snapped. Beatrice went on and on until the piano was completely destroyed. She backed away, wondering what she'd just done. She started to sob hard. She dropped the hammer and ran to the phone on the opposite end of the room. She picked it up and dialed Gina's number.

"Please come home," Beatrice choked, "I don't want to be alone. I need you sweetie. Please come home!"


Wades Ceramic and Tile

After breaking the news to Derek and his mother about what Gregory had done, Derek insisted in going to Heather's family business. He was desperate to help fix whatever damage his father had caused to the company. He felt immensely guilty for his father's actions despite Heather assuring him it wasn't his fault or problem to worry about.

"Of course it's my problem," Derek muttered ashamed, "Your family's company is in trouble, you're struggling at home financially and it's all thanks to my father."

"Exactly, your father. You had nothing to do with it," Heather told him as he drove them. Now at the company, Heather led him inside and they went to Arnold's office to see how things were.

"Your mother hasn't come in today," Arnold told Heather with a frown, "But that's no surprise. No one expects her to just get over her daughter's passing."

"Of course," Heather said, feeling a tug at her heart at the mention of Sonya. "But believe it or not, she's actually been working trying to fix what Gregory did."

"She is? Well, that's good."

"I'm really sorry for all the trouble that man has caused," Derek told him, "I'm embarrassed to call him my father."

"No worries, it isn't your fault," Arnold told him.

"See? Even he knows so," Heather said to Derek, wrapping her arm around him. She looked at Arnold, "How are the finances?"

"I'm not sure," Arnold replied, "Your mother and sister are the ones who normally handled that."

"Only them?" Heather asked, a little confused. Arnold nodded his head. "That's strange, then how has Gregory been stealing from the company if he didn't handle the finances? Are you sure he never worked on them?"

"Perhaps they occasionally let him and that's how funds have been disappearing," Arnold said raising his hands, "I don't know. To be honest, ever since your father died I just try to focus on my work and go home. Your step-mother normally used to like to worry about the books all on her own with the help of your sister from what I understand."

"Well, hopefully now that she'll be getting my part of the inheritance she'll be able to move funds around and get a loan and pull us afloat a bit," Heather sighed. Arnold looked at her.

"I'm sorry? Did you … did you say you gave her your part of the inheritance?"

"Yes," she replied, but Heather could see the troubled look on Arnold's face. He clearly didn't like that.

"Oh, darling, if I tell you this it's because I see you as if you were my granddaughter and I'm sure your father would like me looking out for you," Arnold said to her, his old blue eyes on her. "I don't think you should have done that. Your father left that for you. Please tell me you didn't give it all to her."

"I did," Heather answered, taking his hand in hers. "But don't worry, Arnold, she has the company's best interest at heart. She'll find a way to salvage everything. Trust me she needs this as much as any of us do. If the company closes and we have to move out of our house then that affects her too."

"Arnold is right, Heather," Derek said, "There's something about that I don't like."

"You guys, she's my step-mother," Heather said to them in disbelief, "I know she has her moments but in the end, why would she want to do any harm? This is her company and fortune too we're talking about."

"Well it's definitely hers now, that's for sure," Arnold grimaced.


Wades Mansion

Gina entered the house and looked around.

"Mother?" she called out and went up the stairs to the second floor. She started towards her mother's room but stopped when she saw the door to Sonya's room was open. She looked inside and found her mother on the floor against Sonya's bed, clutching at Sonya's inhaler tightly against her chest. Beatrice's eyes were shut as she cradled herself and cried.

"Mom?" Gina said with worry. Beatrice's head snapped up and she threw her arms out at Gina when she saw her. Gina walked over and sat on the floor next to Beatrice, who hugged her tightly to her.

"Oh, sweetheart thank you for coming home," Beatrice said, "I don't want to be alone. I can't be alone, please. Will you stay with me for a while?"

"Of course," Gina nodded, a little scared at how distraught her mother looked. Her strawberry blonde hair was messy and her mascara had smeared a little. It was so unlike her mother to be this way. Gina held Beatrice close to her.

"Thank you, thank you," Beatrice said with relief and started to sob uncontrollably. She looked at the inhaler in her hands. "I miss your sister so much, so very much."

"I miss her too," Gina whispered, her heart filling with sadness. "I still can't believe she's gone."

"She's gone," Beatrice said, "She is…"

"At least she's at peace."

"No," Beatrice suddenly said, "She's not. She never will be."

Gina looked down at her mother, taken aback by her response. Beatrice shook her head and pulled away from Gina, sitting up.

"She's not at peace, she's not," Beatrice said, "It's all thanks to me. All thanks to me."

"Don't say that," Gina tried to comfort her but Beatrice looked at her angrily.

"Don't even try that," She snapped through her tears, "You don't know anything. I could have saved her, I could have saved her!"

"Mother, you're scaring me. What's wrong with you?" Gina said nervously looking at her.

"You should be," Beatrice cried standing from the floor. Gina stood as well, her eyes still on her mother. "You should be scared. But I swear, Gina, I swear I only meant well. I could have saved your sister but I didn't – I DIDN'T!"

"What are you talking about?" Gina cried, not knowing why she was crying all of a sudden.

"I COULD HAVE SAVED HER, I COULD HAVE SAVED HER!" Beatrice shouted over and over. She threw Sonya's inhaler towards the mirror over at Sonya's vanity table, cracking it. Gina jumped back fearfully.

"Mother what's the matter with you?!" Gina screamed, terrified. "Why do you keep saying you could have saved Sonya?"

"BECAUSE YOUR SISTER DIDN'T KILL YOUR FATHER – I DID," Beatrice screamed at the top of her lungs as she sobbed.

Gina stared at her mother, her tearful eyes wide with surprise and horror. She felt her hands beginning to shake as a storm of a thousand emotions formed in her mind.

"What did you say?" Gina said, her voice low and full of dread.

"I could've told her the truth," Beatrice continued to sob, "I should have just told her I was the one who killed your father and not her."

"You killed him?" Gina asked, starting to cry, "You killed him and made her believe she was the one all these years? How could you do that to her, mother? HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?!"

"That night your father had been fighting with me," Beatrice told Gina, "We were in our room arguing and he had hit me just like all the other times before that," a dark look suddenly appeared across Beatrice's face, "Only this time I had had enough. I pulled out the gun he had and aimed it at him. I threatened him, hoping he would stop talking to me, shouting at me, coming for me … but that didn't stop him. He knocked the gun right out of my hands and grabbed me by the throat and started to hit me again. I was screaming so loud it woke up your sister. Next thing I know she's in the room with us, yelling at your father to stop. He did stop, but then he turned to your sister and hit her so hard she fell back unconscious.

"That's when I had enough," Beatrice continued, "That was the last thing I needed, for him to do the same to you all. I picked up the gun and got in front of him. Before he could say anything, I shot all the bullets I had into him."

Gina looked at her with terror in her eyes.

"He fell back onto the bed and that's when I started to panic. I watched his lifeless body just lying there covered in blood and bullets. I was sure I was going to end up in jail. I thought about losing the two of you and I couldn't bear it. That's when I turned to your sister as she started to come to. Before she could open her eyes I put the gun in her little hand … I figured the cops wouldn't arrest a little girl for defending her mother."

"The cops wouldn't have arrested you for defending yourself and us, mother," Gina whimpered through her tears.

Beatrice put her arms out for Gina and started towards her, "Sweetie, please, try to understand …"

"THERE IS NOTHING TO UNDERSTAND!" Gina shrieked and pushed her mother off her. "YOU DROVE MY SISTER TO DO WHAT SHE DID, YOU DID! YOU KILLED HER! YOU KILLED MY SISTER!"

"I didn't!" Beatrice shouted, "Please don't say that to me, you're the only one I have left!"

"I can't look at you anymore," Gina said to her, shaking her head. She backed away from her mother, "You're a murderer, you killed my sister. She would still be alive if it weren't for you."

"Gina please," Beatrice begged her.

But Gina couldn't see her. She whirled around and stormed out of the room.

"Gina, come back!" Beatrice shouted after her.

Gina ran through the halls and down the stairs. She spotted her mother's keys on the table near the front door and grabbed them before running out of the house and towards Beatrice's car. She hopped inside and turned it on. She pressed the button on the little device that was on top of the visor to open the gates. Sobbing, Gina sped off. She needed to get as far away she as could from her mother and that house. As she drove, Gina had to keep wiping at her eyes for her tears kept blurring her vision as she attempted to drive.

After what seemed like an eternity, Gina arrived at Rick's house and got out of the car. She ran to his front door and knocked on it quickly and hard. Rick answered the door after a couple of seconds and became alarmed when he saw how upset Gina was. She threw herself into his arms and buried her face in his chest.

"Hey, hey, what's up?" Rick asked with worry.

"I need to get away from my mother," Gina sobbed, "I can't be around her. Please, please can I stay here for a while? I promise I won't bother you."

"Of course, come in, but try to relax," Rick said soothingly and took her inside.


Restaurant

Heather and Derek sat outside a restaurant having dinner under the stars. After spending time at the company and Arnold giving Derek a tour of the grounds, the couple decided to grab a bite to eat. Derek still had a look of guilt on his face and Heather didn't know what else she could say to make him feel better.

"Would you just like to work at the company? Would that make you feel better?" Heather joked.

Derek looked up at her, "Actually, yes it would."

"I was kidding," Heather laughed at him.

"It's a good idea though," Derek said to her, "Didn't Arnold say there was some positions your step-mother never ended up posting? One of them was for a digital media coordinator. It's the least I could do and since the company can't afford new hires, I'll do it for free until I've helped bring in some clients."

"Derek, I can't let you do that!"

"Why not? I'm pretty good with photography and Photoshop and all those design programs," Derek told her, "I can improve the company's website. I'd take new photographs of all the inventory and make them look really good. You could probably even take the other position to help with the company's online presence. We'd be working together, you with the PR stuff and me supplying all the digital media to you. You'd actually be doing what you went to school for."

Suddenly the idea didn't seem so bad. Heather realized that now was just a good a time as any to get involved with the company her father started years ago. He would've loved for her to have worked there after she'd finish school so why not? She learned a couple of things in her business and Public Relations courses and once they were back to doing well financially she'd be able to finish her degree online while still working at the company.

"You look like I'm convincing you," Derek smirked at her, grabbing her hand and squeezing it.

"You are," Heather smiled. Derek let go of her hand and clasped his together.

"Great!"

"But once we start doing well with money you will start getting paid," Heather told him, "And to be fair, I'll too do my work for free until that time comes."

"It's a deal," Derek nodded, "We'll be able to put our heads together and come up with different strategies and new concepts for the company."

"I can hardly wait," Heather smiled excitedly.

"Look at me talking business, my father would be so proud," Derek said dryly.

And just as if he'd invoked him, Heather's phone started to ring. She saw it was a blocked number and out of curiosity answered it.

"Heather," said an unfamiliar voice.

"Yes, this is she. Who am I speaking with?"

"It's Gregory."

Heather's eyes turned to Derek, who was taking a sip of his wine.

"Gregory," she said with surprise. Derek looked at her.

"My father? Let me speak to him."

"Don't put him on the line," Gregory told Heather after he heard his son, "I'm calling to speak to you. There's something you should know about your step-mother."

"Sir you have some nerve calling me," Heather said to him.

"Why? I didn't do anything," Gregory answered hotly, "That step-mother of yours, she's a dangerous one – I know that now."

"Did you call me to spread lies so you can get out of trouble?" Heather asked him, "What you did was absolutely disgusting. How could you take money from my family's business after my father hired you?"

"I didn't take any money that wasn't given to me," Gregory snapped, "Your step-mother set me up. She's the one who has been taking money from the company and trying to cover it up. Yes, I took money too but it was all money she gave to me."

Derek could see Heather was becoming upset. He put his hand out to take the phone from her but she shook her head at him.

"I don't believe a word you're saying," Heather said into the phone.

"Well believe it, sweetheart," Gregory retorted, "I never handled the books, that was all strictly assigned to your mother and Sonya. Thing is I caught your mother stealing one day and had her let me in on the game."

Heather was fighting back the urge to yell, "Even if this were true, you're still guilty of stealing and laundering money – even if you were taking it from someone who was the one actually doing it. You still committed a crime."

"Please, I'm a saint in all of this compared to your step-mother," Gregory sneered. "You ought to watch out for her. She hates you like you couldn't imagine. My crime is nothing next to the crimes Beatrice has committed."

"You're insane."

"No, I'm not insane," Gregory laughed, "Your step-mother murdered her first husband, did you know that? It wasn't her daughter which, by the way, my condolences! She killed him and made that poor girl believe she had done the dirty job."

Heather's heart stopped.

"But that's not the end of it," Gregory quipped, "Like I said, she hates you… but that's nothing compared to the hatred she felt for your mother."

"Shut up, I'm hanging up," Heather said, her hand beginning to shake.

"You will not," Gregory said to her.

"What's wrong, what's he saying to you?" Derek asked her angrily but Heather kept staring ahead of her, finding herself unable to hang up the phone.

"Your sweet, precious step-mother is the one you should blame for your mother's death. That's right, your mother's death was no accident – Beatrice pushed her through that window that's in the second story of your house. She told me one day when she was drunk out of her mind. I'm telling you this because I have no interest keeping the secrets of a woman who's set me up to look like I stole money from your father's company."

Heather's mouth dropped with horror, her hand was shaking so much the phone fell out of her hand.

"What's wrong?" Derek asked with concern. He picked up the phone and brought it up to his face. "What the hell did you tell her?"

"Only the truth," he heard his father laugh, "She'll tell you all about it!"

The line went silent. Derek put the phone down and turned to Heather who had her hands up to her face as she cried.

"What did he say to you? Tell me," Derek asked her softly as he put an arm around her.

After finding enough strength to compose herself and speak, Heather told him everything his father said to her. Derek shook his head.

"It's all lies, it has to be," he said to her.

"I-I don't think so," Heather stammered as fear gripped her by the throat. She thought about Victor Hilden who had come back to prove Beatrice had something to do with Alison's death. She remembered that day she and Derek had gone to have dinner with his mother at the hotel and found Debra with Victor. Heather had grown angry and left the table after hearing Victor tell her about his suspicions.

"A part of me tells me Beatrice had something to do with your mother's death," Victor said to Heather. "That's why I came back."

Heather jolted from her chair angrily.

"How dare you?" she said. "You come here telling all these lies and now to make it worst you're accusing my step-mother of having killed my mother? She was her best friend! They were like sisters!"

"That's what Beatrice wanted everyone to think," Victor replied without a beat.

Now here was Derek's father who had absolutely nothing to do with Victor and was telling her that Beatrice had caused her mother's death. It was too much coincidence. How could it all be a lie? Heather explained it all to Derek and by the time she was done, she found herself incredibly furious.

She had to see Beatrice.

"Take me home," Heather muttered, her face cold and angry.


Wades Mansion

Beatrice lied in her bed staring up at the ceiling. Her eyes were red from all the crying she'd done. Her phone suddenly started to ring and she jolted up. She picked it up without looking at the screen and brought the phone up to her ear.

"Gina?"

"Guess again," Gregory chuckled.

"Leave. Me. Alone."

"You're going to want to hear this," Gregory said quickly before Beatrice could hang up on him. "I thought since you were so considerate about warning me the cops were coming to my house to arrest me, that I'd do the same by calling you to warn you you're step-daughter might be coming home tonight wanting to kill you. Aren't I the greatest?"

"What are you talking about?" Beatrice asked impatiently, in no mood for Gregory.

"I told her everything," she heard Gregory say and her blood suddenly went cold. She sat up in bed as Gregory kept talking. "I told her all about how you've been stealing money from the company, I told her you killed the father of your daughters and, most importantly of course, I told your sweet step-daughter that you drunkenly confessed to having killed her mother all those years ago!"

"You didn't…" Beatrice said with pure fear on her face.

"I did," Gregory said, his voice suddenly growing serious. "You wanted to ruin my life? Well I'm returning the favor. So be alert, Heather is probably on her way back to the house right about now. Just wanted to give you a heads up."

Beatrice heard Gregory hang up. She stayed there for a while paralyzed with fear. What was she going to do? She had to play it cool. Beatrice couldn't lose control right now. She stood from her bed and put her heels on. She grabbed her purse and left her room. Beatrice ran down the hall. She quickly descended the stairs and went to grab her car keys from the little table near the door but they weren't there. Confused, Beatrice looked around before stepping out of the house.

Her car wasn't there.

Beatrice's heart nearly jumped out of her throat when she saw Derek's car pull up outside the gates of the house. Heather got out of the car and went through the door by the gate, her eyes glued on Beatrice. Derek quickly got out of the car and followed behind Heather.

Beatrice swallowed nervously and tried to fix her hair as she walked right back into the house. Heather angrily followed her inside with Derek trailing behind her. Beatrice turned to look at her and tried to hide her nervousness, "Heather, there you are."

"You murderer!" Heather snarled and slapped Beatrice hard on the face. Beatrice gasped and turned to looked at her but Heather slapped her again.

"Heather, no!" Derek shouted but there was no prying Heather off Beatrice. She grabbed her step-mother by her blouse and pushed her down to the floor in front of the stairs.

"You stole money from my father's company, you killed Gina and Sonya's father," Heather said before her eyes stung with tears of fury, "And you killed my mother. You goddamn murderer!"

386


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