Here it is, the grand finale! If this is your first visit STOP NOW and read the rest of the story before you continue…it’s cheating to read the end of the story first! I’ll give you the links to make it a little less annoying to click to all the other chapters: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.
Okay, all caught up? Here we go….
For twenty-four sleepless hours I waited in my cell, worrying about my children. When I’d arrived at the station, they’d given me my one phone call. I used it to call home, but no on had answered.
Had someone already taken my children? Had they run away? Where would they go? Maybe they were just too scared to answer.
I’d left a message, let them hear my voice, and I’d waited until the machine hung up on me. No one picked up.
If child protective services had come, how would I find them again? Would I be able to find them again?
Oh, Mary, why hadn’t I listened to you?
Because if I had, Hope would be dead. Either way, I’ve lost her, and Aaron. I’m completely alone.
Alone. This caused a new chain of morbid thoughts; thoughts which seemed to pierce my very soul with cold horror.
What if they were separated? What if they didn’t even have each other anymore?
By the time my cell door opened, I felt as if I’d already gone half mad.
“Where are my kids?” My voice cracked as I questioned the man in the cheap suit who’d entered my room. “Do you know what happened to my children?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t, but it appears you’ll be able to find out for yourself soon enough.” The man closed the door and crossed his arms as he turned to face me.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Mr. Shreve, it appears you have some friends in low places.”
I blinked and tipped my head, uncomprehending.
The man uncrossed his arms and approached me.
“When I called your employers, they told me nothing had been stolen.” He paused and raised his eyebrows. “They also said they would not participate in a trial against you.”
My heart began to hammer against my ribs.
“And it seems, when the officers searched your apartment, this is all they found.” He pulled a wadded piece of material from his pocket and tossed it at me.
I caught the object, and as I smoothed it out, I recognized the bag the officers had filled with produce from my fridge. It was empty.
Unable to resist the urge to look inside, I opened the top and peered into the shadowed recess of the bag. On the bottom I saw two small apple stems, nothing else.
The sound of the man’s feet scuffing across the floor toward me caused me to look up. He rested a hand on the bed rail and leaned in until I could see the pores on the end of his nose.
“No visible stamp, or lack thereof, on the edibles means no evidence. No plaintiff, combined with no evidence, means this will be a very difficult case for me, Mr. Shreve, but you can be sure I’ll do all that I can to see you back here, where you belong.” He grabbed the bag and I saw the muscles in his jaw working as he backed away. When he turned to open the door, I dared to breath.
The man left without a word.
A guard entered.
“Time to go, Mr. Shreve,” he said, holding the door open.
“It’s time for you to leave. Your bail’s been paid.”
Feeling numb with shock, I stood and followed the guard down the hall past dozens of closed doors and finally stopped at a large desk, where I had to sign several forms before I could reclaim my facemask and ID.
Another set of doors opened and I was ushered into a waiting room. Someone was there to greet me. The last person in the world I would have expected.
“Bea? What are you doing here?”
The guard leaned in and said, “She paid your bail.”
My jaw dropped.
Bea nodded to the guard, who nodded back before he turned and left.
“Bea, how did you know? How did you pay? My kids-”
“Shhh.” Bea held up a hand and then stepped forward to place that hand on my shoulder. “Let’s get you out of here. I’ll explain it all in time.”
Bea led me toward the door. We both paused to put on our masks before exiting the building. We were immediately swallowed by the rush of foot traffic on the sidewalks and I had to focus on staying close to Bea and moving in the right direction. We were standing outside the ground level entrance to the Wilson’s off-shore estate before I could get a word in.
“Bea, I’ve got to get home, I’ve got to check on Hope and Aaron.”
“They’re fine,” Bea responded. “And you’ve got to come with me.”
We entered the building and showed the guard our ID.
“Bea, did the Wilson’s give you the money for my bail? Why would they do that if they knew I stole from them? Why would they say that I didn’t steal from them?”
“The Wilson’s didn’t pay your bail, I did.”
We’d reached the elevator and I stepped in, stunned into a moment of silence.
“How?” I finally asked.
“I’ve got plenty of savings and nothing to spend it on, that’s how.” I opened my mouth to protest and Bea gave me one of her looks. “You just let me feel good about helping and leave it at that.”
My mouth closed, but not for long.
“How am I ever going to repay you?”
“You’re going to do your job and keep me from a watery grave, that’s how.”
“My job. Do I still have a job? What about the Wilsons?”
“I explained everything. They knew about Mary, of course, and I told them about Hope and you bringing her the food when she was sick-”
“How did you know about that?”
“Warren Shreve, do you think I’m blind?”
I felt foolish and thankful all at the same time.
“I wonder what happened to the food,” I said this quietly, mostly thinking out loud.
Bea smiled as we stepped off the elevator and began walking down the tunnel toward the entrance to the underwater dome.
“The officers that went to your house, well, one of them was my son. The other two are his best friends. As soon as Aaron called me, I called him.”
I stopped in my tracks and stared at her.
“Your son? That was him?” I shook my head and then processed the rest of her statement. “Aaron called you?”
Just then the door between the tunnel and the underwater dome opened. Aaron and Hope ran toward me. I dropped to my knees to catch them both in my arms.
“Hope, Aaron, what are you doing here?” I asked in amazement.
Aaron pulled away, a huge grin on his face.
“I called Bea as soon as they took you. I didn’t know what else to do. She came and got us, brought us here, and told us she was going to get you.”
“Daddy, we’re under the ocean!” Hope whispered to me, her eyes shining, her voice full of awe.
“And we’d like you all to stay.”
My head jerked up at the sound of another voice, a male voice.
“Mr. Wilson.” I stood and cleared my throat, then forced myself to meet his eyes. “Mr. Wilson, I’m sorry…I…” I shook my head, not knowing what else to say.
“Warren, I wish you would have come to us. We were very sorry to hear about your wife. If we’d known about Hope, we would have given you the food for her. I’m deeply disappointed that you would steal from us.” He paused and I hung my head. “But I have a family too. I understand why you did it.”
I looked up then and he put a hand on my shoulder. Swallowing around the lump in my throat, I nodded my wordless thanks.
“You’ll still have to appear in court, but we won’t press charges, and I doubt the case will hold, from what Bea told me…” He glanced at Bea, who kept her face neutral. Mr. Wilson turned back to me. “You’re the best at what you do, Warren. We need you, and Bea convinced us that the only way to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again is for you and your family to live down here, with us.” He smiled down at Hope then, who giggled. “What do you say?”
Glancing between Hope and Aaron, I tried to wrap my head around the whole idea. Hope’s face was eager, excited. Aaron looked more hesitant. No one had mentioned the prescription, or the payment. I didn’t know for certain what would happen to me, but I could make sure my kids were safe.
“What do you think, Aaron? This will mean some big changes. I’m not sure about school-”
“I’m not sure about living under all that water,” he replied, glancing up that the ceiling of the tunnel where fish swam through the dark ocean. I understood how he felt.
Hope tugged on our hands and we both looked down.
“As long as we’re together, everything will be okay.”
Aaron grinned and I laughed, then I hugged them both again.
“You’re right, you’re absolutely right.” After pulling away gently, I gripped my children’s hands and faced Mr. Wilson. “We accept your offer.”
Mr. Wilson nodded. Bea grinned and waved for us to follow as she led us forward to our new home.
So, what do you think? Do you think this end is realistic? Satisfying? Would you have done what Warren did?