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
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.
"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 cops said you told them about what I said to you
that day. If you hadn't, they might have pinned the drugs
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
"Are you OK with that?" Frank asked, breaking
into his thoughts.
"Sure," Richie said, although he didn't meet Frank's
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
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
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
"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
"I just want to get out of here," he said, fighting
back the tears. "I don't want to go back there. Don't
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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.