Chapter 9


"What were you thinking about?" Lizzie bit out as she glared at her older sister.

"When? I just called you-"

"Exactly!" Lizzie said, nodding her head emphatically. "You yelled my name like a dogcatcher calling a pit bull! Didn't you see that I was talking to someone? And, everyone says that I'm the rude one."

Sarah stared at Lizzie with surprise in her blue eyes. Feeling put upon, she quickly and quietly responded. "I'm sorry. I was surprised to see you. Weren't you leaving with Gram?"

"She decided to help out, so I'm getting a ride with Tom and Simone. Have you seen them?" Lizzie asked, trying hard to mask her continued irritation with her sibling. Sarah's timing sucked. There was no other explanation for it, Lizzie thought shaking her head.

"Not for awhile. I know that he was helping Dawn, but I don't know where Simone is."

"Oh? So our good ole uncle was fraternizing with the enemy?" Lizzie asked, chuckling to herself.

"What are you talking about?" Sarah asked. "Dawn isn't my- anyone's enemy."

"If she and my man were making goo goo eyes at each other, she'd sure as hell be my enemy," Lizzie told her.

"Nikolas does not look at her in that way. He's helping her learn how to fence-"

"Yeah, right, Sarah. Sure," Lizzie interrupted. "So, what do you want to do? Have you seen him, yet? Did he make it?"

"What a rude way to ask, Liz," Sarah said, shaking her head in dismay. "He was shot in the neck! The least you could do is pretend to be concerned."

"I am concerned. I don't want him to die, it's just that... well, Sarah, you could do better than some guy who's looking at someone else. That's all. So, do you want to sneak a peek for yourself? Make sure he's okay? Or are you ready to go home?"

"I'm going to see Nikolas. Are you coming with me?"

"Sure," Lizzie shrugged. And, maybe she'd see that curly haired stranger again.


Dawn hurriedly pulled on the green scrubs that Tommy had swiped for her. She ran a hand through her shoulder-length curls and smoothed the uniform over her body. "How do I look? Is this okay?"

"Who cares?" he asked. He pushed the door open all the way and glanced out. There were a few people around, but most were too busy to notice them. He turned to Dawn. "Just remember what I said. Keep your head bowed so that they can't see your face and walk quickly. And," he added as she was about to move away, "don't stay in there all night. You just want to check on him. It's both of our butts if you get caught, and since I want my butt in a-"

"-in a top of the line, candy apple red Ford Mustang, you don't want to get busted. I know, Tommy, l know." She gave her friend's arm a friendly punch. "I'll be in and out in a jiffy. No one will ever know I was there. Thanks for helping."

He smiled. "No problem. Just be quick about it, okay?"

"I will. See ya!" And, with that, she was gone.



"What are we gonna say to him?" Kyle asked, his eyes glancing anxiously at Alicia and Michael.

"How about hi, Dad, what's up?" Alicia said. Her following laughter sounded nervous. "I dunno. We could make up something. We're lost and asking for directions."

"He's in an apartment, Ali," Michael said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "He'd think we were nuts to come all the way to his apartment to ask for help."

"Do you still think she's the one with all the brains?" Kyle cracked.

"I don't see you coming up with anything!" she countered.

"Wait, Ali." Michael gave her shoulders a squeeze. "Your idea isn't bad. It just needs a little tweaking. Maybe we can pretend to be looking for a friend and can't find the apartment."

Kyle shrugged. He couldn't find anything wrong with that. "The directory downstairs said that Dad's place should be this one. You guys ready? Who should we say we're looking for?"

"Does it matter?" Alicia asked. "Just do it."


A.J. took a few moments to straighten up his apartment. The sound of the doorbell had jarred him. He had been watching live coverage of the aftermath of the shooting on the news. He immediately clicked off his TV set. He knew it was too soon for Keesha to have arrived, which meant he had unexpected company. He toyed with the idea of not answering the ring, but his curiosity got the better of him. He had to know who was paying him an unannounced visit. Maybe, he reasoned, it was someone with further information on the shooting. With that thought in mind, he opened the door and was totally taken aback to see three strangers, teen-agers, all of them, their eyes addressing him expectantly.

"May I help you?" he asked, surveying the trio. "You look as though you might have the wrong apartment."

The teenagers stared at him dumbstruck. AJ wondered if they were high or on something. His eyes narrowed and he stared at them. No, their eyes appeared lucid. But something spooked them.

"Are you in trouble?" A.J. asked. "Do you need to use my phone? Do you need help?"

"We need a moment of your time," the girl spoke up. "May we come in?"

"Why don't you tell me what you want first?"

A.J. looked them over. They appeared to be fine and seemed harmless, but he didn't want to take any chances. Especially with the news of the shooting at Luke's.

"We were looking for our friend's apartment," said the guy who resembled her so much that he had to be her twin. "His name is Juan."

"Oh. I don't know a Juan."

"Oh, God."

The teenager who hadn't spoken tottered. His face became ashen. The twins reached for him. "Michael! What's wrong?"

"What's wrong with him?" AJ asked. His suspicions took a backseat as his concern grew. The change in sentiment made no sense to him, but there it was. He cared about these kids. All three of them.

"He gave blood at the hospital," the girl supplied. "The nurse told him to take it easy. We should have listened."

"It's not your fault, Ali," Michael croaked. "Sorry, mister…"

"No, wait!" A.J. opened his door wide. "Come in. Losing blood drains your system. You can have a seat inside."

"Are you sure?"

AJ looked into the other boy's eyes and nodded. God, AJ thought, those eyes reminded him of his mother. AJ blinked. "Yeah, I'm sure."

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