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Flood - by Angela Mull  

Part 4/4

Ten days after Richie arrived at the hospital, George was moved to another room. Richie thought this was a good sign, especially after the nurses told him he'd have the room to himself for a few days.

Shortly after George was carted away, the police dropped in and took Richie's statement for the record. They raised eyebrows when Richie told them the drugs weren't his, and frowned when Richie said he'd attacked Grant more out of anger than self-defense. Richie waited as they scribbled down notes, expecting them to hassle him. He did, after all, have quite a reputation with the cops for his little petty theft problem.

"You know a Frank Morales?" asked the shorter fuzzball with the name Sgt. Curtis pinned crookedly over his left breast pocket.

Richie paused a moment; it wasn't the question he'd expected. "Yeah. Why?"

"He came to us right after the accident and said you'd had a little talk at the youth club a while back. Why don't you tell us about it?"

Richie did, and when he finished the cop nodded curtly. "Well, the stories match, and we don't have anything to hold you on."

"So what does that mean?" Richie asked, irritation creeping into his voice. Bad enough that his foster parents were dead and he was laid up in this poor excuse for a hospital, but add to that the possibility of being accused of something he didn't do...

"It means that as far as we're concerned, you're free and clear of any drug possession or use charges. As for what happened with Grant Davis, the coroner ruled he died from an overdose, so you won't be charged in connection with his death."

The cops pocketed their notebooks and Richie watched them leave, then turned back to look out of the window. Angie showed up a few minutes later. She, Gary and Maria had visited him a few times, but he wasn't good company, and they only stayed for 30 minutes at a time. Richie figured they didn't know how to act around him. He hadn't told them everything about that night, but they knew all about it anyway.

George had shown him a newspaper from a week ago with a story about what happened splashed on the metro section's front page. Some nosy reporter must have pried the details out of the police, because Richie hadn't been interviewed. Not that he would have said anything if he had been.

Angie didn't stay long or say much. As she got up to leave, she paused, tucking her brown hair behind her ears.

"Richie? Are you really OK?"

Richie thought about the best answer. The truth was he wasn't OK. It wasn't just that he constantly relived Sherri's death. It was this hospital, too. He hated everything about it, but he didn't tell Angie that. She couldn't do anything about it anyway. Frank had tried and failed.

A few days ago when the pain was unbearable, Richie told Frank about the pathetic care he was receiving. Frank's pleas to the medical staff had either gone unheard or were being ignored. If Morales couldn't get things to change, Angie wouldn't be able to, either.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Richie lied, and she smiled faintly before leaving.

He watched a bird glide past his window and heard the door open. *What is this? Grand Central station?*

It was Frank. Morales had come to see him as soon as he'd heard about the accident, but had neglected to tell Richie about his talk with the cops. As the man pulled up a chair, Richie thanked him.

"For what?" Frank asked, shifting his weight in the chair.

"The cops said you told them about what I said to you that day. If you hadn't, they might have pinned the drugs on me."

Frank smiled a little and waved his left hand in a dismissive gesture. "I don't think they could possibly have said the drugs were yours. Turns out the reason Frank was fired from his job was because his employers were sure he was on something. They asked him to take a drug test, but he didn't. If they'd asked for one before he took the job, they would have been better off. They told the cops all about their suspicions. So I'm not the only one who got you off the hook."

Frank paused. "You know, Richie, I wish you'd listened to me in the first place and told the social workers -- "

"If you're going to say 'I told you so, ' save your breath, please,'" Richie interrupted. "Looking back on it, maybe I did screw up. I thought I was protecting her, but she died anyway. And so did he."

Before Frank could say anything, Richie changed the subject.

"You know that they're going to take me back to the orphanage after I'm well enough to leave?"

Frank nodded. Richie picked at his blanket. He was set to be released in a week, but he planned to break out early and take off. Seacouver hadn't been kind to him lately, and he wanted to get as far away from the memories as he could.

"Are you OK with that?" Frank asked, breaking into his thoughts.

"Sure," Richie said, although he didn't meet Frank's eyes.

Frank nodded his head slowly. "Look Richie, you can talk to me about it," he said, his brown eyes sympathetic. "You shouldn't let it eat away at you like this."

"I don' t need you to play shrink with me, OK?" Richie said sharply. "They're dead, I'm alive. That's all."

Frank rubbed a hand over his mouth as Richie's face screwed up with the pain his outburst had caused him.

"OK, Richie. OK. Look, I'm going to go so you can rest. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Sure," Richie said and waited for Frank to leave. As soon as the door shut, he struggled up into a sitting position and checked the time on the wall clock. 3:45 p.m. His next pain shot was due at 4 p.m., which meant 4:30 p.m., but he wasn't going to be there for it. He was going to get the heck out of Dodge. Find a place where nobody would be able to hurt him again. A place where he wouldn't keep seeing Sherri dead on the floor, her eyes open but unseeing.

Richie pushed back the cover with his good arm and swung his legs out of the bed, grunting with the effort. His right arm was still in a cast, and his right ankle was heavily bandaged. His ribs felt like someone was using them as a xylophone. Still, he made his way toward the closet and got dressed, sweating heavily with the effort.

He'd been out of bed a few times on short walks around the room, but only with someone there to reach out if he started to fall. This was taking much more effort. By the time he finished dressing, he had to rest on the bed to keep from collapsing on the floor. As he sat there, his head down, he heard the door open and Nurse Fielder's startled voice.

He stood up awkwardly, trying to look as strong and healthy as possible, although he felt like roadkill. "I'm leaving."

He moved to go past her, and she put her hands on his arms to push him back. "Richie, please get back in bed. You can't go anywhere yet. You could hurt yourself."

Richie shoved her out of the way. Well, that wasn't true. In his condition, the shove was more like a gentle nudge. Nurse Fielder bolted out of the doorway. Richie didn't know where she was headed, and didn't care as he limped along the hallway toward the elevator, stopping every few feet and wiping the sweat off of his forehead. He ignored the stares of the other patients and the nurses at the nurses station.

Finally, he saw the elevator doors. Before he could reach out to press the button, he felt someone's hands on his shoulders. A large, burly orderly forced him up against the wall and another orderly plunged a needle into his left arm, emptying the contents of the syringe into Richie's arm.

"No," he said, understanding that they were going to drug him to keep him there. He struggled against them and heard them cursing. Nurse Fielder's voice was somewhere behind him, telling them not to hurt him.

"Let me go," he cried as he tried to twist away, ignoring the fire in his ribs. After a few minutes, he stopped struggling and sagged in their arms.

***

Richie didn't wake up until the next morning, and when he did, he was so fuzzy-headed it took him a minute to remember what had happened. When he did, he tried to get out of bed, but his arms and legs were in restraints. He jerked on them, hoping to loosen them, but had no success. Panic at being kept there choked him, and he screamed for a nurse.

Nurse Fielder came in and went to him. "I'm sorry, Richie, but we can't take the chance that you'll hurt yourself."

"Get me out of these," he said angrily. "Get me out of these now."

"I can't. Doctor's orders. Just relax. I'm going to give you some more medicine to help you sleep."

"I don't want any more," he said angrily, but she ignored him and slid the needle home, expelling its contents.

"I just want to get out of here," he said, fighting back the tears. "I don't want to go back there. Don't you understand?"

Nurse Fielder shushed him and smoothed the hair away from his forehead. "It's OK. Just relax. Everything' s going to be fine. Shhh."

Richie's laugh at her words came out as a sob. Nothing would be fine. Sherri was dead, Grant was dead, and he was being held prisoner here at this hospital. They were keeping him from getting away to someplace safe. Keeping him here, where he was alone and hurt and weak. Didn' t they care? Weren't hospitals supposed to help people?

***

Richie awoke briefly in mid-afternoon to Frank's voice. He was groggy, and everything seemed disconnected, but Frank sounded angry.

"What did you people do to him?"

"We sedated him."

Richie recognized that voice, too. Nurse Fisher. Or Fielder. Or something or other.

"He tried to leave here last night, and we had to take measures to prevent him from injuring himself."

"So you pump him full of drugs and tie him up?" Frank's voice again, still angry. "After what he's been though? He's terrified of going back to that orphanage, and he's hurt, and what you people are doing isn't going to help him. You'll just freak him out even more."

Richie felt hands on his legs and heard the nurse telling Frank he couldn't do that. Then the hands were on his arms, and Richie felt the pressure there lessen. Someone was taking off the restraints. "Frank?" he asked uncertainly, the fog lifting a little as things shifted more into focus.

"Yeah, Richie, it's me."

Richie heard the door open, and Dr. Whiting came into view.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" the doctor demanded, moving toward Frank to stop him.

Frank grabbed the man by the coat. "I'm doing what's best for him."

"What's best for him is to stay calm so he doesn't hurt himself," the doctor returned heatedly. "Now get your hands off of me."

"No," Frank said. "No restraints, and no more drugs. I'll stay with him, and I'll talk to him. He won't try to get out of here again. You have my word."

The doctor looked at Richie, then back at Frank. "Fine. We'll try it your way. But if he does try and get out again, we do it our way."

Frank released him, and the doctor and nurse left. Turning back around, Frank stood over Richie and put a hand over the teenager's.

"It's OK, Richie," he said. "I won't let them do that to you again."

Richie nodded, his alertness waning quickly, his eyes sliding shut in exhaustion.

***

Richie made another escape attempt at 9 p.m. He moved stiffly, trying hard to be quiet. Frank had set up a makeshift bed by stretching out on two chairs , and Richie didn't want to wake him. He had a feeling Morales wouldn't go for the idea of him checking out early.

Richie was about to open the door when Frank grabbed him firmly from behind. Richie tried to push off the hands around his waist, but the man held on.

"Get back in bed, Richie," Frank said and started to walk backward, pulling Richie with him.

"No," Richie said, feeling almost as awful as he had yesterday when he'd tried breaking out. He'd wrenched his ribs badly, and was paying for it. He twisted around and grabbed the older man's arms, partly to help him stay upright, partly to ensure that he had the man's attention.

"Please, Frank, let me go," he said, his eyes wide with fear. "I can't stay here. They'll take me back to the orphanage. I can't go through that again."

"Where are you going to go if you leave, huh? And how far will you get like this?"

"I don't know," Richie admitted, shaking his head. "But I can't stay here. This place is like a prison. I won't stay here."

"Are you running away because you hate the hospital, or because you don't want to think about what happened to Grant and Sherri?"

Richie closed his eyes and sighed. "Both," he said in a small voice, and looked at the older man.

"It wasn't your fault," Frank said quietly. "You couldn't save her."

Richie felt the twisting in his gut that was present any time he thought about Sherri or Grant. "You don't know that. You weren't there."

"I know you would have saved her if you could have."

"But I didn't," Richie said, closing his eyes as if to ward off the memory. "And now they're both dead."

He lowered his head as the tears started to slip down his cheeks. "It's not fair. It's not fair."

Frank held Richie closely as the teenager wept for several minutes. He wept for the woman who'd been the closest thing to a mother since Emily Ryan. He wept for the man he'd tried to kill -- the man who had self-destructed over the last few months. And he wept for himself, and all that he'd lost that night. Not just his foster parents. He'd lost one of the few shreds of innocence that he had left. He'd never wanted to kill anyone until that night, and it scared him to think that he might have gone through with it.

After a few minutes, Richie stepped back, the exhaustion etched on his face. "I have to go," he said wearily.

When he moved to turn, his legs gave out and he fell. Frank caught him and helped him over to the bed. Richie was too tired to fight the man and let himself be eased under the covers.

"Richie, you don't have to go to the orphanage," Frank said as he settled the covers around the teenager. "You can stay with me."

Tired as he was, Richie opened his eyes wide at Frank's words. "Why?"

"Because I don't want to see you stuck back into the system. You willing to give me a try?"

Richie thought about it. He was too broke to strike out on his own, and he trusted Frank. More than anything, he wanted to avoid the orphanage and another lineup of foster families.

"Yeah, I'll try you out. But is there a catch?" he asked, mustering up a weary smile.

"Let me think about it," Frank said, smiling back. "I'm sure I can come up with something."

***

Tessa and Duncan sat in silence. It was nearly midnight. Richie had spent the last few hours pouring out everything, the couple listening without interrupting.

"So I wasn't the first one to make a deal with you, huh?" Duncan asked softly, smiling slightly and referring to his own deals with Richie last fall.

Richie grinned faintly and shifted slightly on the couch.

"Nope. You weren't the first," he said and yawned. He was exhausted, and his side ached.

"Richie, I'm so sorry," Tessa said. "Now I understand why you took off that day from the hospital."

"I couldn't stay," Richie told her, rubbing his eyes. "Every time I get near one of those places, I see Sherri dying, and me trying to kill Grant...and I remember how trapped I felt in that hospital. You think hospitals are places where the nurses are all gorgeous and falling all over themselves to help you get better fast. But this one wasn't."

Richie looked at Tessa. "After I dropped you off and found out you were going to be OK, I bailed. I had to get out of there."

"Running away doesn't solve your problems," Duncan said.

"No," Richie admitted slowly. "It doesn't. Taking off from the hospital that day, and avoiding going there after Krissa whacked me on the head didn't keep me from remembering everything. I didn't feel better just because I tried not to think about it." Richie paused. "Actually, telling you guys about what happened has made me feel better than I have in a long time. At least since Frank was around to talk to."

"What happened to Frank?" Duncan asked.

Richie looked at his feet. "He died in a drive-by shooting. He was a great guy. Really came through for me, letting me live with him. And when I needed to talk, he listened."

"We'll listen, too," Tessa murmured, coming over and kissing his cheek. "Any time."

Duncan nodded his head. "We'll be here for you, Rich. I hope you know that."

"Thanks," Richie said, his eyes moist. "I do."

He stifled another yawn and excused himself for the night, shuffling back to his bedroom to get some sleep. He settled slowly into bed, pulling the covers up underneath his chin. So many things had been screwed up in his life, and it seemed like just when he'd dealt with one demon from his past, another one jumped out from around the corner.

He hoped that one day there wouldn't be any left.


The End

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