"I can't stop thinking about him, about what might have been if I'd..." Timothy trailed off and I put a hand on his shoulder.
"You could spend forever thinking about the what ifs Tim, he'll get help now and you can have help now." I said with a reassuring smile.
"I know," he said, looking at his hands. "Your dad has hired some help to look in on him and everything until my uncle can come and make...decisions I guess."
"I'm sure everything is going to be fine Tim." I said. "Come on, you can look over my notes from history - we have that test tomorrow."
The rest of the week went by with relative calm. Timothy was back at school every day and catching up quickly. Of course there was a lot of talk but none of it was bad - a lot of people came up to offer their support to him. I saw Veronica hanging back, looking conflicted more than once. Every time one of her gaggle of gossips would get her attention again though and she would turn away from us.
Apparently getting from a remote dig site in Egypt back to the States took some time and effort because Tim's uncle still hadn't arrived by the weekend. My dad reassured Tim every day that his uncle was on his way.
By Saturday, Tim was pacing the house, clearly having expected his uncle to have arrived by then. Erik was at the house hanging out and we exchanged a couple looks as Tim jumped to look out the window when another car door shut.
"Okay - let's go!" my dad announced suddenly. "We're going to the beach!" Tim started to protest but eventually we got him out of the house and swung by Erik's house so he could get changed. Almost as soon as we hit the beach, Tim found ample distractions to keep his thoughts of his family and he was smiling and laughing with the rest of us.
Tim was playing a game with a couple other people when I heard my dad's cell phone jingle faintly. He turned away from us and spoke in hushed tones before hanging up. When he turned back toward me, he caught my eye and smiled.
Stephen Kline certainly stood out on the beach; he looked like he hadn't slept or shaved in days but had done his best to pull his long hair back. We saw him before he saw us and I didn't need Tim to confirm who he was.
"Uncle!" Tim called when he spotted him. Stephen turned toward Timothy's voice and then two walked toward each other. They looked like they were about to hug but both bulled back somewhat awkwardly at the last moment and settled on a hand shake.
"Tim, it's good to see you boy!" Stephen shook Tim's hand roughly as Timothy tried a quick round of introductions.
Dad waited behind us until Timothy and his uncle had time to reconnect and Stephan could meet Tim's friends. One by one, the rest of us dissolved, leaving Tim, his uncle and my dad standing together to talk.
"Tim, do you think Mr. Bartlett and I could have a moment?" Stephan said.
"Sure!" Timothy was relieved to get away from the grown up talk. Even at seventeen, he'd had enough of adulthood to last him through what was left of high school if he could help it.
Stephan and Timothy stayed with us that night but the next day, Timothy left to go back to his own house this his uncle. Dad offered to help them in any way he could and Stephan assured him he would be in touch.
"Ginny..." I vaguely recognized my dad's voice through the sleepy haze and groaned, pulling a pillow over my head. It couldn't be time for school already! "Come on Kiddo, you need to wake up." my dad persisted, gently shaking my shoulder and tugging at the pillow.
I clutched the pillow firmly, not willing to let go of my only shield but it was clear he wasn't going to let up. I finally let him pull the pillow from my face and blinked at the digital clock. It was almost two in the morning! "What's wrong?" I asked groggily.
Dad didn't give me any real details, just asked me to get dressed and come along. My head drooped against the car window more than once on the short trip from our house to the police station. Of course when I realized we were at the police station my head instantly cleared and the sleepiness that had been threatening me disappeared. "Dad? What's going on?"
"I'm not really sure." he said honestly. "But I think you'll be able to help figure it out."
I stared at him blankly as he put his arm around my shoulders and led me inside. Sitting on a cold, metal bench was Veronica. She looked more put out than normal as she watched us come in. My dad looked at her and then to me and back to her as if trying to assess the situation. Then he nudged me in her direction while he stepped over to the desk where a bored looking cop was filling out paperwork.
I watched my dad's back. I watched the clock slowly tick above the desk. I watched the occasional bubbles release in water cooler nearby. What I didn't do was look at Veronica.
Veronica seemed to be making a similar point to be avoiding my eye as well so we passed several minutes in silence. I would have been happy to continue like this if my dad hadn't looked back at me and made several twitching movements with his head as if telling me something.
I sighed as the full meaning of his signal hit me. "Why am I here?" I asked Veronica. "Better question, why are YOU here?" Veronica rolled her eyes but didn't say anything. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared into the back of my dad's head. "Okay then, I'm sure my dad is finding out now." I crossed my own arms over my chest and leaned back.
For several more minutes, neither of us said anything. I caught a few words here and there between my dad and the cop but couldn't put any of it together. "Shoplifting." Veronica said quietly and out of the blue. "I was caught shoplifting. Well that and curfew..."
I knew money wasn't an issue in Veronica's house so I'm sure there was confusion on my face. As much as I wanted to press the issue of the shoplifting, I had a more urgent question in mind. "Well why call us?" For a second I know hurt flashed across her face but I couldn't even imagine why. She returned to her stony silence and we waited. I watched as my dad signed about a dozen papers and everything was copied over in triplicate it seemed. Nothing else was said between us until my dad turned back towards us and motioned it was time for us to go.
Veronica looked sad; I don't think I'd ever seen her look so sad as she walked out of that police station. The part of me that still held out hope that the old Veronica was in there wanted to reach out and hug her. But the rest of me, the parts that had been burned and trodden on so many times, won out in the end and I stayed beside my dad.
"You're staying at our house until we can get a hold of your parents." Dad explained as we drove back to the house. "The officer said no one answered at your house, are they out tonight?"
"You could say that." Veronica muttered. I barely heard her and wasn't sure my dad did. He was eying her through the rear view mirror but decided not to push.
He looked over at me expectantly, as if I was supposed to have all the explanations to Veronica's behavior - I didn't understand the way she was when she was normal - and this was far from normal. I shrugged and stared out the window as we passed house after house.
Once again I made up the guest room and I found an old pair of pajamas that Veronica must have left behind ages ago. I put them on the bed for her and turned to leave. "Gin." she said, stopping me in my tracks. Slowly I turned back and saw she was already changing.
"My parents are out of town...." she said with a wavering voice. "They have been for months actually." Her voice actually cracked as she spoke.
"Well where are they?" I asked, I was sure my dad would need to know this much anyway.
"Ya know I have no idea." she said with a sad little laugh. "Last time I spoke to them, they were in Tuscany...and that was a month ago."
"They don't call? Give you a number or hotel name?" I was dumbfounded.
Veronica shrugged halfheartedly. "I called the last hotel I knew a couple weeks ago...they had checked out the week before; no forwarding information." I knew there was something I should say, something to comfort her or reassure her but I was in shock. "I just....thought you should know...ya know, tell your dad..." she said before crawling into bed and turning off the bedside light.
I blinked a couple times, standing there in surprise at my sudden dismissal and then went back to my room and changed back into my PJs. It was now nearly four and we had to be up in a few hours for school. I crawled into bed and hoped for sleep to take me soon. With any luck, I'd wake up in the morning and this would all be a bizarre dream.
Unfortunately, I heard noise in the hall before sleep overtook my body. I crept to the door and peeked into the hall in time to see a fully dressed Veronica quietly descending the stairs. I waited until she was at the bottom before following her outside onto the porch. "You really are unbelievably selfish aren't you?" I said shaking my head. I'd actually felt sorry for her...
"What?" she sputtered, turning to face me. The make up she hadn't washed off before bed was streaking down her cheeks where she'd been crying; though now her eyes were dry. "I don't want to be a bother....to you or your dad..."
"Don't you get it? He signed papers for you! Taking responsibility for you in the mean time....so if you get busted for shoplifting or curfew again it's him they're gonna blame this time!" I wanted to smack her again. I wanted to throw her back inside and lock the door...I wanted her to understand.
"They wouldn't, it wouldn't effect him....besides I'm not going to get caught doing anything again anyway!" Veronica's face was contorting from sadness to anger and through every other emotion in between as she stared at me.
"They would! Your actions don't just effect you V! They effect everyone around you for better or worse! You want to get your parents' attention by stealing or hanging out with the wrong crowd - fine, whatever but do it somewhere else. This is my home and whether I like it or not my dad agreed to take temporary guardianship of you which means you have to live by our rules! I won't have you screwing up MY family!"
I heard the door slide open behind me before Veronica could begin to formulate a response. "Inside, both of you. Seems no one is getting much sleep tonight..." my dad said. When I turned back, he was standing there in his robe and holding the door open for us. I looked back at Veronica and waited for her to start inside before following her. "Sit!" he said, pointing us both to the couches. We both sat. And then we talked.