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~Chapter Two ~
The room grew quiet as the nurse walked over to the computer mounted on the wall and pulled up a web page. She typed in Arianna’s name and thousands of search results popped-up. Even if the media was no longer following her story it was forever commemorated on the internet, keeping her memory and hope of her recovery alive.
The nurse ran her finger down the screen, stopping about midway down. She pulled out her cell phone. “I hope they haven’t changed their number…” She punched it into her phone.
“I wouldn’t change my number if my child were missing…” Justin began. He was cut off with the long, slender finger of Nurse Cooper as she held it up to shush him.
“Hello, Mrs. Rathburne? I’m a nurse at Saint Claire West Hospital in Harper’s Mill.”
“We have a young woman named Arianna here. She says you’re her mother. ”
There was a pause, and Justin could hear someone yelling on the other end.
“I can assure you I’m not lying, ma’am. She was brought in a couple hours ago. Could you please come down?”
Another pause, but Justin didn’t hear the yelling anymore.
“I’m very serious. How long will it take you to get here?”
She turned to Arianna and smiled, holding her thumb upward, mouthed, ‘They’re on their way.’
“Yes, ma’am, she’s gonna know who you are. She had a serious wound, but she’s stable now and asking to see you.”
There was another pause and Justin figured the parent was asking their daughter’s condition, and possibly where she’d been. He couldn’t imagine how he would feel if his daughter had gone missing and shown up years later…
Nurse Cooper spoke into the phone, her voice professional and compassionate. “We’ll discuss her case when you get here, ma’am. Drive safely.”
She ended the call and looked up at the doctor, Justin, and finally Arianna.
“Are you ready to see your parents?”
A smile broke out on Arianna’s face and Justin’s breath caught in his throat. She was beautiful…No. He couldn’t let his mind go there. This woman had been traumatized, and she’d probably never get over it.
The smile faded from her face and she asked in whisper, “Do you think they’ll be mad at me?” She gripped Justin’s hand with an iron-like grip.
“Why would they be mad at you? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“But ‘the monster’ said they hated me and didn’t want me back because I was used goods.”
“He’s a liar.” Justin couldn’t believe the sound of vehemence issuing forth from his mouth. He barely knew this girl, but the fact the maniac had done such an emotional number on her made his blood boil in his chest. If he was in front of him right now, he’d…He stopped the thought dead in its tracks. That was the old Justin trying to push through again. The new Justin lived for God. He needed to feel love and forgiveness. But how did one feel forgiveness for such monsters, let alone love?
The doctor, who’d remained quiet until then broke in, “He only told you that to keep you docile. He probably hoped you wouldn’t try to run away.” He pulled out a white handkerchief and wiped his face before stuffing it back into his pocket. “Did you try to run away?”
Arianna didn’t answer but looked at Justin. When he nodded, she said, “I tried every day. He hurt me so badly.” She stopped talking and seemed lost in thought.
Justin watched as Nurse Cooper gave the doctor a look of concern and asked, “Do you think we should sedate her?”
The doctor rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment. “No, I don’t think so, at least not yet. She’s already exhibited such strength of mind and character. I think she just needs some time. We’ll wait and see how she does with the reunion.”
Justin felt a wave of protectiveness come over him. There was no way he would let anyone hurt her again. He silently prayed, ‘Dear Father, lead me and guide me.’ He felt a calming peace overcome him. He was beginning to believe God had put him in this position on purpose. Was it possible?
He was pulled from his own private thoughts by her sweet, pleading voice. “Don’t leave me Justin.” Huge green eyes full of fear and anguish looked up at him.
Even if he’d been of a mind to leave before, there was no way he could now.
“I won’t leave, I promise.” He gave her hand a light squeeze. “I do have to use the restroom though. Is that okay?”
At his words, terror filled her eyes and silent tears slid down her pale, hollow cheeks.
A strange ache filled his heart at the sight. “I’ll be right back, Arianna.”
He loved the way her name rolled off his tongue. He shrugged his shoulders, feeling self-conscious. He looked first at the doctor, then the nurse. Could they see the emotions overcoming him? He hoped not. She wasn’t even his type, for crying out loud.
Arianna reached out and grabbed his hand in a weak grip. “You’re sure you’ll come right back?” Her tears stopped their flow and glistened at the corners of her beautiful green orbs, the moisture causing long, red lashes to spike together.
He gave a gentle, reassuring smile. “I promise honey, I just have to use the bathroom.”
She laughed. “Okay, I guess I can trust you to do that.”
Surprise filled him at her laughter.
Her smile was infectious and he returned it before almost running from the room. His body had been telling him for almost an hour that the situation was getting dire. He searched for the nearest bathroom and rushed in the swinging door.
As soon as he was done he headed back to her room, as promised.
As he reached her doorway he heard Dr. Anderson say, “Arianna, would you like something to eat?”
And her answer.
Justin pushed through the door. “Yes, she’ll have a tray, and so will I.” He gave her a stern glare, hoping it would convince her.
She looked up at him, then quickly away. “Okay, if Justin’s eating, I guess I will, too.” She hesitated, said in a small, quiet voice, “I don’t like peas…”
They all laughed.
It was nice that there was still a little bit of normalcy to her life. Justin pulled his mind from that line of thinking. He needed to stay focused on her, not how he felt about what had happened to her. “What else don’t you like?”
“I don’t like spinach, and I don’t like greens.” She wrinkled her cute nose and he noticed a very light smattering of freckles across the bridge of the little nub. She wore a look of pretended horror now and he couldn’t stop the thought that popped into his mind; It must be nice for her to think about mundane things, rather than whether she’d live out the next day or not.
He wanted to share a small part of himself with her so she’d feel more comfortable divulging more of who she’d become over the long, hard years of her horrific captivity.
“I can’t say I blame you. I don’t like spinach or greens, either. I hate pickles, too.”
“I’m not a real picky eater. I love cake. He would--” She stopped before finishing what she’d been about to say.
“He would what?” Justin asked gently. He gave her a look that said she could trust him, but still she hesitated.
“I don’t want to think about him right now. What’s on the menu?”
Dr. Anderson looked up from the chart he’d been studying. “I think they’re having roast beef and mashed potatoes.”
She grasped Justin’s hand, looked into his eyes. “That sounds so good.”
Justin’s heart turned when her eyes met his. There was just something about her--
There was a commotion at the door and an older couple came rushing through.
“Arianna,” The woman yelled. She rushed over to the bed and hugged the skeletal figure who’d gone rigid at the physical contact, not realizing the discomfort she was causing. “I was so afraid,” shesobbed on Arianna’s bony shoulders.
“Oh honey, we’re so happy your back.” The older man enthused as he wrapped the similar-looking women in his embrace.
Arianna pulled away from her mother, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I thought you would hate me.”
“Why would you think that?” Her mother cried.
“Because he said you wouldn’t want me back because I was used goods now.” Her voice sounded like it must’ve when she’d been an immature teenager; unsure and hoping for acceptance.
Her father said, “He was just telling you that honey. We would never be mad at you over something like this. It isn’t your fault in any way.”
Justin heard the same vehemence in her father’s tone he’d recognized in his own, and that scared him. What did that mean? He would have to file it and examine it later.
After the initial reunion was over, Arianna’s parents noticed the other people in the room. Their gazes flitted from the doctor to the nurse, and then stopped on Justin.
His voice full of suspicion, Arianna’s dad asked, “Who are you?
Justin rushed forward with a hand thrust out, “I’m Justin Hollander. I’m the one who discovered your daughter on the jogging trail this morning.”
Her father took his hand and gave it a firm shake. “We can’t thank you enough.”
“We’re so grateful for what you’ve done--” Her mother added.
“I’m sure you have other things to attend to, you can take it from here,” her father said.
“I--” He was cut-off by Arianna.
“No. I want him to stay. He can’t leave.”
Both parents looked at the doctor. He shook his head. “She’s made it clear she won’t communicate with us unless he’s present, so we let him stay.” He shrugged as if to say, ‘what can I do?’
Her father pulled his shoulders back and gave Justin a dirty look. “Okay--Is there something we aren’t being told?”
The nurse jumped in. “What do you mean?”
Her father’s tone had lost all semblance of politeness. “How does she really know this guy?”
The nurse was quick to defend Justin. “He tripped over your daughter out on the jogging trail at Gobbler Park. That’s the extent of their acquaintance.”
Noise from the hallway stopped the conversation and Justin gasped in outrage when he saw four cameramen with huge cameras trying to push through the doorway. He was already on his way to stop them when a reporter finally burst through the mass of human bodies.
“My name Is Janice Westmeyer and I’m with Channel Two News. Is it true that Arianna Rathburne has returned?”
She shoved a mic in Justin’s face, and anger leapt to the surface. “How dare you. This is a private room. Who gave you permission to be in here?”
“We have freedom of the press, sir.” She looked him up and down with obvious insolence before resting her gaze on his face. “What’s your name?”
“You don’t have freedom of the press in a private room,” He enunciated each word as if talking to a child as he grabbed her shoulder and began to propel her back through the door with a gentle hand.
Just as the female reporter reached the opening, one of the cameramen stuck in the fray shoved through, pushing her back into Justin. He went flying across the room and hit his head on the metal frame of the hospital bed. He grunted in pain, but got right to his feet. “Nurse Cooper, maybe you should get Harry.”
“I’m already on it.” She moved her hefty body through the mass of humanity in the doorway like an athlete at the games, easily thrusting them aside. She returned just a few seconds later with the security guard in tow.
“You all gotta leave.” He motioned for the reporters to move away from the door and closed it with a firm click when they were on the other side.
“Wow, they’re persistent folk, aren’t they?” He mopped his brow with a green handkerchief. “Is everything okay in here?”
“I think it’s going to be fine,” Dr. Anderson said. He walked over and checked Justin’s head. “Nurse, get this man an ice pack.”
“Who called the press?” Arianna’s father demanded.
“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.” Dr. Anderson answered. He left the room, closing the door behind him with a quiet click.
“Are you okay, Justin?” Arianna asked in concern.
Her father scowled over at him. “He just bumped his head, pumpkin. He’ll be okay.”
Arianna shrank under the covers and whispered, “Are you mad Daddy?”
He rushed to her side with quick steps. “No angel, I just think your time would be better spent concentrating on yourself for now.” He stroked her hair. “What happened to your throat?”
And the battle lines were drawn. Her father had taken a dis-liking to him for no apparent reason. He prayed silently, ‘What now, Lord? If this is the girl I’m supposed to be with, what am I supposed to do?’
Arianna’s voice pulled him from his silent pray.
“I’ve missed you so much, daddy. I’ve prayed over and over the last ten years this day would come, but never in all that time did I imagine you would be rude to the person responsible for my rescue, or that I would feel fear of you.” Tears slid down her cheeks.
Her father moved to console her, but she held up a hand to stop him. She looked over at Justin, silent appeal in her emerald eyes. She held out a hand toward him.
Justin couldn’t help it. His body moved toward the bed with volition of its own. He took her hand and sat in the chair at her side, knowing she’d just made the battle that much harder.
He didn’t know how he’d feel if something like this ever happened to a daughter of his. What he did know was what Arianna had just done must seem like betrayal to the father who loved her… “Sir, I can leave and let you guys get re-acquainted.”
“No, don’t bother. Apparently she’s picked you, a virtual stranger, over her own parents,” He accused. But there was hurt in his voice.
Justin rushed to Arianna’s defense, but also wanting to console the older man. “I don’t think that’s what’s happening, sir. I think she’s just overwrought, and since I’m the one who found her…”
He was interrupted again, this time by her mother. “She’s just tired, dear. Calm yourself. This is not a godly manner. We don’t want to add to her stress.”
Her father rubbed a big, beefy hand over his brow. “I’m sorry, Ari. I don’t know what I was thinking.” He gave Justin a contrite look. “I’m sorry for my rudeness son. This is just such a big event--”
Justin nodded. “I totally understand Mr. Rathburne.”
At that moment an aide brought in two trays of food.
The doctor finally spoke after being silent through the whole personal exchange, “Why don’t you folks go down to the cafeteria and get some coffee while your daughter eats?”
Arianna’s mom smiled at her daughter before turning to her husband. “Yes, let’s go Lenny. Coffee sounds delightful right now.”
After they left Arianna and Justin ate their meal in silence. Justin was overjoyed at Arianna’s appetite. It was a good sign.
When she finished, Arianna wiped her mouth with a napkin and tossed it on her empty plate. “Whoever said hospital food wasn’t any good obviously hasn’t eaten here. That was delicious.”
“It was good, I’ll have to say. Arianna, I don’t want to--”
She surprised him by reaching up and laying one long, slender finger across his lips. “Hush now. I want you here. For ten long, excruciating years I’ve not had my way, but it’s my turn now.”
How could he argue with that? The silent appeal in her eyes spoke louder than her words. There was only one response; “Okay.”
She smiled, but it disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.
He gazed deeply into her eyes. He wished he knew what she was thinking, but he didn’t know her well enough: yet.