Metal crunching in time with the shattering and explosion of glass was not how Alex had expected to spend her fifteenth birthday. She had for a moment felt happy that her brother swooped in to surprise her. It had only created turmoil when he burst through the door announcing his arrival. She didn't care, she loved being with him. She saw his intelligence, his wit, and overlooked the overly rebellious and troubling actions and bad choices he had made. All she heard was no, and it only pushed her to follow him and climb into his brand new convertible. She was determined to prove everyone wrong. He was misunderstood, as much as she felt she was. They had laughed as they sped along the highway that curved with the shoreline. Time had become its own entity as it almost froze with the impact and then sped up to a point she blacked out. As it slowed back to normal beats Alex became confused at the numbness and new position she was in.
She tried to comprehend what had just happened. How had she ended up outside the car? Where was her brother? Where was the car? Any movement sent shock waves of pain through her. The gravel and dust blurred her vision. Sounds were distant. She saw a boot cross her vision and tried to call out. Her voice was louder in her head, but nothing came out as she opened her mouth. Suddenly she saw his face and felt safe. His dark eyes were full of concern and fear. Blood covered his face and the collar of his shirt.
"Help me." She tried to reach for him.
"I'm sorry, Alex," he said quietly, and then moved out of her eye line again.
She didn't understand what he meant. There was a moment of silence before the eruption of noise and activity burst around her. Her questions never stopped as more people surrounded her, most encouraging her to try and relax. To stop talking, to rest, saying that everything would be okay, but it wasn't. The next familiar face she saw was Trish Riley. She gripped her hand and spoke words of support, but never answered her question.
Alex tried to shake off the memory her brother reappearing invoked. She didn't think. She jumped on her bike and peeled out. She didn't look back. She just rode. Her mind kept playing what had happened. She tried to think if any of it would have been different if Kate actually had known about Danny. She doubted it. She couldn't explain why she left out the crucial detail of her brother surviving the crash. It was simple in her mind, he was dead to her the moment he looked her in the eyes then left her to die. She was content knowing she'd never see him again so the disclosure never mattered. She was holding strong to her feeling that if she didn't think it was important then Kate should be on board. It was her life and her choice. Kate's reaction only made her trying to digest Danny's reappearance harder.
The road was wide open and she cranked the throttle letting the engine roar and she sped across the asphalt. She followed it as it curved and traced the coastline. The water to her left glistened in the sun, while the lush landscape to her right waved in the gentle breeze. As much as she normally enjoyed the ride she couldn't seem to take in the serene beauty. Flashes of memories Danny brought up bogged her mind. She tried to control her thoughts but they were rogue. To her relief, she came up quickly to her destination.
She hadn't initially intended to take the ride all the way to Trish Riley's home, but she needed her perspective. Not that Kate wouldn't have been able to see a different viewpoint, Trish and Alex's history went deeper. She had been there the night her father was killed on duty, and as he died he had begged her to look out for Alex. That tragedy and promise became the catalyst for Trish to take Alex under her wing and attempt to steer her in the right direction. Alex hadn't always been so willing to accept the role she had offered. Her own anger and pain had her rebelling against anything and everything, but Trish never gave up on her. She had a way of bringing a balance and clarity to situations. She could somehow see the whole picture while Alex usually was stuck in the middle. From the time she was a teenager struggling to find her path to a rookie cop and beyond there stood Trish; a strong and sturdy structure. There had been times she never believed she deserved such a person in her life, but Trish never let her feel that for long.
Alex turned onto the frontage road that ran parallel to the highway before turning to follow a side road that headed back towards the water. The road began to climb and more trees surrounded her before they broke clear and opened to a drive that led up to bi-level home that merged with nature and built with the trees. Logs made up the structure while large windows wrapped the front and halfway around the sides. The trees gave cover but its perch was perfect for the view of the ocean the home overlooked in the near distance.
She killed the engine and looked to the windows for any sign of life within. Lights were on but no shadows or movement were seen. She had a hunch to where she'd find the owner and threw her leg over to get off the bike. With her helmet under her arm, she didn't head to the front but instead strolled around back. The property slanted down and she followed the wood-slatted path as it gradually circled around the home and towards a small garden. Pots filled with arrays of succulents and cactus' lined the perimeter while a small patch of grass filled in the central area.
Alex glanced up a staircase that led to the upper deck. Not seeing Trish in any of the chairs, Alex turned her focus to a path of round stones that led out of the yard and past the waist-high fence to a well-worn trail that led over a small sand dune. She set the helmet on the railing and followed the footprints up the dune and stood at its peak. She looked out briefly to the water before bringing her eyes down. As she had expected she found Trish settled in a weathered Adirondack chair tucked against the base of the dune. She looked content; a meditative stare directed beyond the distant horizon. The tight ringlet curls of her shoulder-length dark brown hair fluttered in the wind as did the loose pages of the book in her lap. Her only movement was her index finger that she ran over a rim of a half-full wine glass that had been set on the loose grains of the golden sand. Alex smiled to herself as she descended down to the beach to join Trish. When Trish caught sight of her she smiled brightly and adjusted in her chair to face her, but the smile faded as fast as it had formed.
"What's wrong?" Trish said sitting up straighter.
"Why do you think somethings wrong, can't I just come to visit you?" Alex asked lowering herself onto the sand next to her friend. She reached over and lifted Trish's wine glass, finishing its contents in one gulp.
"Of course you can. You may not realize it yet, but you don't hide your distress as well as you think."
"Hmm." Alex wasn't amused by the observation, but not surprised that Trish would so easily see through her.
"Is Kate okay?"
"Mother Hen as ever."
"Ahh, there it is," Trish said with an almost sing-song inflection. "What happened?"
"No." Alex rotated the glass in her hand staring at the light dancing off it. "It's not her. It's Danny."
"What about him?" Trish asked, sudden concern in her voice.
Alex glanced over in curiosity to Trish's tone. "He's here."
Trish almost shot out of the chair as she adjusted to fully face Alex.
Her sudden shift from calm to almost frantic had Alex leaning back in shock. "What?"
"What the hell does he want?" she asked, her voice shaking.
"I didn't give him a chance to ask, but doubt he'll come back around," Alex responded with a slight shrug.
"I gave him a couple of black eyes I'm sure he'll be nursing for a few days, but to more of a point, why are you so concerned?"
"Let's go up to the house," Trish said and rose over Alex. She extended a hand to help her up. When both women were standing Trish looked Alex over.
Alex didn't like the look she held in her eyes and became more interested in knowing what information she had to share. "Please tell me what's going on."
Trish grabbed Alex's hand and began to lead her back to the house. "There are some things you need to know about your brother."
Kate strolled along the compact sand and watched Rontu sprint up and down the shoreline chasing the seagulls that dared try to land in his path. The breeze from the ocean began to feel colder as the warmth of the sun plunged beneath the horizon. Kate shivered and regretted not grabbing her sweatshirt before she left. She figured she'd be sweaty and hot since she had started out on a run, but didn't make it far before her thoughts had her pace reduced to a walk. She hadn't been thinking rationally, she was upset. Alex's behavior worried her and she couldn't deny that she was hurt by not knowing. She knew that after Alex's dad died, her life began to spiral and only became worse from a car accident that had almost killed her. One she thought had killed her brother. She could understand Alex's resistance to trust and reveal her truths, and for the most part, Kate respected that. Alex was right to the fact that Kate was letting her own feelings interfere with being more reasonable, but she felt their friendship was at a level that she would have disclosed the truth about her brother, and what it meant to her story.
Giving up on calling her dog to return, Kate turned and jogged towards the bar. Rontu would make his way back and by the time she had the first patron's drink made he'd be scratching to be let in. When she opened the door she immediately saw the upturned tables and the sound of rummaging coming from the office. She entered carefully and swiftly went behind the bar. What she was looking for was just below the lip. She slipped the gun from the attached holster and pointed it in the direction of the office. She sidestepped and maneuvered around the shards of glass to not make her presence known.
She glanced up the stairs and eyed the door to the kitchen, but it sounded like all the activity was happening in the office. She pressed her back tightly against the wall and stopped before the doorframe and listened. She took a moment to center herself before she spun and engaged the trespasser. Knelt down behind the desk Kate could make out the top of Danny's head.
She cleared her throat. "Get up slowly with your hands where I can see them."
Danny's head jerked upright and he threw his hands up. "Woah, let's take it easy."
"Stand up. Slowly."
He complied and when he was fully standing he slowly spun. "Look, no gun. I'm not a threat, please put yours down."
"Yeah, that's not happening." Kate glanced around the room and her stomach twisted in disgust to the mess and damage done to the bar. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"You don't get to ask questions."
"I know how this looks, but it's not how it looks. I'm sorry for the mess."
"Oh," Kate rolled her eyes. "Well since you apologized."
"Why don't you just ask and maybe I can help." He was clearly desperate to find something, but he had come back when he knew neither of them was there.
"I wish it was that simple. Alex can help clear this up."
"All you've got is me."
"You wouldn't understand."
"Try me," Kate said lowering the gun to show she was willing to give him a chance to explain.
"I wish it was so simple." Danny moved around the desk keeping his arms raised. "This wasn't supposed to happen like this."
"What the hell does that mean?"
Danny sighed and dropped his head, but he didn't move. Kate began to lift her gun again to make her point when the sound of crunching glass had her moving. She spun to see who was approaching but barely saw him behind the chair that he was swinging at her. Kate couldn't react before the full force came down on her upper back. The impact and pain sent her down hard and the gun from her hands. She was disoriented and tried to refocus enough to respond to what would happen next and get the gun. She felt herself being lifted up and pressed against the wall. She tried to focus on the man pinning her but his gun kept her attention. Finally looking past the barrel she knew him immediately and the moment they had met a month earlier, she had noted he'd be someone to remember. He almost looked like a comic book character with a box-shaped head, and hair that was just short enough it sprouted in all directions. His eyes were narrow slits and a scar that ran from his left eye down his cheek. She had asked him about it on the third visit to the bar. He had an entertaining story for every scar and had acted charming and funny. Now she realized his skills surpassed his dumb blockhead exterior.
"Katelynn." He smiled at her.
"Niko," she responded back, "Why don't you tell me what this is all about?"
"Maybe have a seat and wait like a normal person."
He laughed at her smartass comeback and leaned in closer. "Why don't you just give it up."
"She doesn't know," Danny spoke up circling back into Kate's view. "Alex didn't even tell her I was alive. She's just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Kate looked from Niko and back to Danny. "No, I think that's you two."
"Shut up." Kate flinched at the spray of spittle that shot from his mouth.
Danny spoke up again, "Let's just all take it down a notch."
"I'm down for a chat over a brawl." Kate agreed.
"I don't chat, I take care of business and go home." Niko twisted his head to look at Danny. "I wasted my time giving you a chance, I'm taking over."
He then pressed Kate hard against the wall again before he released her, but kept the gun on her as he spoke, "You tell your partner she needs to step out of the shadows and deal with this or it's going to get ugly."
Kate rubbed the back of her head but didn't respond. She only stared at the man. She was trying to comprehend the meaning behind the message. She had no detail or information beyond his threat.
As he left she watched Danny cower slightly as he began his escape but stopped and looked at Kate. "I'm sorry, this wasn't supposed to happen."
"So do something about it, don't put it on Alex to fix your trouble."
"She really has to deal with this and not run away."
"Tell me what he's looking for, Danny."
"The ring. She'll know."
Kate stood up to straighter to face Danny and tried to keep him from retreating. "What ring? Alex doesn't wear jewelry or own any that I know of."
"I gave it to her after our father died, but I need it back." Danny shifted his weight, his shoulders hunched. He looked out of the office and then brought his focus back to Kate. "It's a simple fix if we just get it to Niko, otherwise I don't know what he'll do to all of us."
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