JJ came halfway into Hope’s office before he remembered to knock. “You wanted to see me?”
“Have a seat.” Hope’s tone was all business; JJ didn’t like it. He crossed his arms as he sat down.
“Officer Horowitz said that you have information about where Rory was last night.”
JJ’s face relaxed. “He was with me all night.”
“What time did he get there?”
“I dunno. 11 or a little after. Mom was flipping out about me being on campus so late and then he showed up in the middle of it.”
Hope put her pen down and leaned forward. “Your mom worries because she cares. I hope you took what she said to heart.”
JJ played with his backpack strap. “Are we done?”
“Almost. What’d he tell you about where he’d been?”
“Some guy robbed him in the woods.” Hope gave JJ a look over the top of her glasses. “What?” he said.
“Rory told you the robber I’m investigating attacked him and it never crossed your mind or your mother’s to call me?”
“Mom probably would have,” JJ said, “if she knew he hadn’t already.” Hope shot him a suspicious look. “Look, he was in no condition to be seeing you guys last night. I was afraid you’d take one look at him and forget about what happened to him cause of how he was.” ` “You mean because he was high.”
“If Rory’s story is true, calling me right away could have given us a chance to catch this guy. Now we have to waste time figuring out what the truth is, and if Rory’s innocent, the real robber has had plenty of time to get away.”
JJ’s eyes flashed but he just said, “Can I go now?”
Hope sighed. “I guess. JJ, hopefully there won’t be a next time, but if you run into any more crime victims, you send them my way, understand?”
“Duly noted.” JJ started to leave. Hope said, “And you can tell anyone who it might affect, we care more about what happened to them than about drug charges.”
JJ turned around. “Oh yeah?”
“So you’re not gonna jam Rory up over the weed you found when you arrested him?”
Hope sighed. “I’m sorry, honey, but that’s different. Rory broke the law, period. He has to pay the price.”
JJ turned his back to her. “You wouldn’t have even known he was holding if you hadn’t got him mixed up with the guy who put a knife to his throat. That’s messed up. Besides, what price did I pay for all the stuff I did that was way worse than just holding onto a bag of weed for later?”
“Your case was completely different.”
“Why? Because I’m a Horton?”
“No. Because you cleaned up your act. Rory has the same chance to go before a judge and plead his case you did.”
“It’s not fair, Hope. It’s not like you caught him smoking it.”
Hope stared at him. She said, quietly, “I think you know better than that, JJ, especially after the problems you’ve had. Off the record--are you using with him again?”
“No!” JJ sounded offended. “Hope, I haven’t touched that stuff in over a year, and honestly I never want to see it again.”
”Okay. In that case, why are you losing it over him getting in trouble for it?”
JJ shook his head but said nothing. Hope came around to the other side of the desk. “I’m not asking as a cop, JJ. I’m asking as someone who cares about you.”
JJ sighed. “Rory can’t get a break, Hope. We didn’t tell you like we should have, I get that, but he’s still a victim and you’re still locking him up anyway. Plus, I did way worse stuff than he’s ever done and at my sentencing hearing, the room was packed. Even Mr. Carver stood up for me. But Rory, when he goes before the judge, he’ll be lucky if anyone but me even cares enough to show up. So I dunno, maybe if he could get a break this one time, he’d… maybe it’d wake him up... ”
“That’s sweet, but I have to tell you that in my experience as a cop, that’s not the way it works. I’m sorry, JJ, but unless something major happens, Rory’s headed for a life in and out of prison.”
JJ’s shoulders slumped. Hope said, “If overlooking the weed he had on him could change that, I’d do it. But it won’t help, honey. If anything, it might make him worse.”
JJ took a deep breath. He turned towards Hope and said, “Can you at least call Mr. Jennings and see if he’ll maybe take Rory’s case? I know Rory can’t pay but - “
Hope blushed slightly at the mention of Aiden’s name.
“Please, Hope,” JJ said. “Mr. Jennings got me out of a 10 year sentence when he barely knew me. If anyone can do anything for Rory, it’s him.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Hope said. “But I can’t promise anything.”
“I know.” JJ pulled his bag over one shoulder. “I can go now, right?”
Hope nodded. She collapsed in her seat as JJ walked out. JJ better not let Rory drag him down with him, she thought, rubbing her temples. She took out her phone and called someone. “Do you think you can meet me at Club TBD in an hour? I have to talk to you. It involves JJ.”
Eve sat at one of the outdoor tables by Brady Pub, nursing a glass of wine. It was a little chilly out; she pulled her sweater closed as she took a sip.
She saw Eric Brady walking across the patio. He had his camera around his neck and was carrying some other camera equipment, lights or something.
“Eric!” Eve said as Eric passed by. “I was just thinking about calling you, but it’s so much nicer to meet over a drink, don’ t you think? Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll order another glass of wine...what do you like?”
“Um,” Eric said, reddening slightly. “I actually may have to take a raincheck.”
“Another one? If I didn’t know better, Eric Brady, I’d think you’re purposely keeping busy to avoid me.”
“Not at all. I just happen to be on my way to a shoot right now.”
Eve sipped her wine. “I understand. But I just have one quick little - “
“I really have to go.” Eric looked uncomfortable.
“Oh come on, Eric, if you really don’t hate me, what difference will just a minute make? For all your client knows, their clock is just a tiny bit fast. Besides, I was hoping you’d pray with me, and I know you wouldn’t want to put some grumpy client before a prayer request.”
Eric looked at her like he was trying to figure out if she was telling the truth or not. “What can I help you with?” he asked.
“Well… this is probably me being silly, but they say God answers all prayers and does all things, right?”
“Almost all things,” Eric agreed. “Sometimes He has a different idea of where you should go, so even if He doesn’t answer your prayer, you can rest assured that He’s giving you what you most need.”
“The thing is, Eric,” Eve said slowly, “my daughter Paige is insisting on doing something that I think is too dangerous, and it seems like there’s nothing I can say or do to stop her.”
“That’s always tough. I can’t think of anything harder than seeing clearly where someone’s headed and not being able to turn them from the path they’re going down. It’s at times like these that you really have to trust in God. If Paige is determined to make this decision, just let her do it and trust that God will protect her.”
“How can you have so much faith when you have lost so much?” Eve asked.
Eric sighed. “It saddens me that you have so little. Paige will be fine, and so will you.” He glanced at his phone. “I’m sorry, I really do have to run. I’d be happy to hear the specifics about what’s going on with Paige later, though.”
Eve’s phone buzzed. She looked at it and made a face. “I actually have to go too,” she said. “A situation has kind of come up.”
After Eric walked on, Eve picked up her wine and said, “I’m going to need a drink to deal with this.” She picked up her phone and texted somebody:
Rory asks JJ for a favor. Someone gives Jen news about JJ that sends her into a panic. Paige makes a discovery about her mother. Trouble literally shows up at Eve’s door. Daniel and Chloe finally get Parker’s diagnosis. Marissa gets a phone call that makes things worse for her.
T was working behind the bar when Paige and Daphne came up. “So you survived another day!” he said to Paige. “I’m glad you decided to come back. Who’s this?”
Paige wasn’t really in the mood. “T, Daphne. Daphne, this is T. He manages the bar when Sonny and Ben aren’t here.” Daphne looked puzzled. “You know,” Paige said under her breath. “JJ’s cousin and that guy who dates his sister.”
“Right,” Daphne said. “So you’re Sonny’s right hand man?” she asked T.
“Right hand, left hand and anything else he needs,” T said. “Gosh, that didn’t even make sense, did it? Sorry. Don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”
“I would quit while I was ahead if I were you,” Paige told him.
T’s face fell and he said, “What can I get you ladies?” His eyes lingered on Daphne. Paige’s eyes narrowed, though she told herself it was stupid to care since T wasn’t her type anyway.
“We just need some boxes,” Paige said, “if you happen to have any. I’m moving and I want to make sure I have enough.”
“Tall order, but I’ll see what I can do.” T went to the back. Daphne giggled. “He’s cute,” she said. Paige gave her a look and she added, quickly, “in a goofy, not really boyfriend material kind of way.” T came back with a couple of boxes and Paige thanked him before hurrying out of the bar.
JJ doubled back to the police station after class to see whether Rory was still there. The desk sergeant said he could see visitors now and took JJ to the cell to see him. “Five minutes,” she said, and stood by the door watching them.
Rory was sitting on his bunk, staring into space. JJ looked back at him, feeling awkward. “Sorry they haven’t cut you loose yet, man,” he said at last.
Rory laughed. “Don’t look so down in the mouth. We had some good times in this cell, granted we were both on the same side of it then, but still.”
JJ tried to make himself smile, but he couldn’t do it.
“Seriously,” Rory said, “don’t worry about me. They say the judge’ll let me go without any bail tomorrow and then it’ll be back to good times, at least til my date with him over this weed.”
“Good to hear. Listen, man, I called in a favor to get you a real lawyer.”
“Thanks but no thanks.” Rory put his hands on the bars, but took them off again when the guard looked their way. “I already beat the robbery charge, thanks to you and that hot new girl you introduced me to. They’re not gonna keep me locked up for long over one little bag of weed, man. I can face it without paying the steep fees some high class lawyer’s gonna charge me for nothing.”
“This guy’s the best,” JJ argued. “Dude, he got me out of that prison sentence I was facing after he’d only met me once.”
“That guard’s gonna kick you out of here any second, so let’s not waste any more time on this. I need you to do something for me.”
“What?” JJ crossed his arms.
“I’m supposed to meet Bev to… um, to study, in like an hour. I know she’s not exactly your favorite person anymore, but do you think you could go in my place so she knows I didn’t just stand her up?”
“Look, dude, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have a really good reason. Bev’s in trouble, JJ, and that trouble’s name is Cole.”
“Cole! That dude’s coming around again? I thought we were rid of him now that we’re at Salem U.”
“I know, right? But Bev’s been acting real weird and the night I was attacked, I saw him, dude. I think she’s seeing him on the down low again.”
JJ sighed. “All right, where are you meeting her?”
“Probably some place you don’t wanna be. Just text her, man, tell her I told you to. Oh and also, if my brother calls - “
“Time’s up,” the guard said. “Let’s go.”
“If your brother calls, what?” JJ asked, but the guard was coming over towards him, so he had to leave without any answer.
“Thanks for meeting me,” Hope said to Jen as she sat down across from her.
“Of course. Thank you for keeping an eye out for my son.” Jen’s hands were shaking slightly as she put sugar in her tea. “What’s going on?”
Hope sighed. “That’s a loaded question. I’m not sure where to begin.” She sipped her coffee. “What do you know about JJ’s friend Rory?”
Jennifer’s eyes widened. “What did Rory do now, and how is my son involved?”
“We had reason to believe Rory was involved in the campus robberies. It turns out he’s probably not, but anyway, we arrested him a few hours ago. Honey, JJ was with him at the time of his arrest, and, well, let’s just say his behavior left a lot to be desired.”
Jennifer’s eyes widened. “What’d he do?”
“I wasn’t there, but the reports say he was talking back to the officers and making them worry that he was going to interfere with the arrest.”
Jennifer shook her head. “I’m sorry, Hope. I’ll talk with JJ and make sure he knows that his behavior is completely unacceptable.”
“I hope you have better luck than I did. JJ happened to stop by the station, I guess to find out what was going on with Rory, so I pulled him into my office. He is absolutely convinced that the only reason Rory acts the way he does is that nobody gives him a chance to straighten himself out, and he won’t be talked out of that.”
“Yes,” Jen said. “That’s exactly what he told me last night when I didn’t want Rory to stay. I knew I shouldn’t have given in, but JJ was so convinced that all it would take was one night at our house… I just couldn’t bear to say no.”
Hope sighed. “That’s what scares me. Not you, honey. Him. JJ will do anything to give Rory that second chance that he thinks will make all the difference. I’m worried, cuz, that he’s going to end up doing something illegal and get himself into trouble all over again.”
“I can’t take that,” Jen said.
“None of us can.”
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any control over him anymore, and anything I say falls on deaf ears, if he’s even around for me to say it.”
Hope reached for Jen’s hand. “Stay strong, cuz. JJ’s not in trouble yet. Hopefully this time you can head it off at the pass.” Her phone buzzed; she glanced at it and sighed.
“The station?” Jen asked.
Hope nodded. “I hope it’s not another robbery,” she said as she stood up. “But listen, let’s talk soon, okay? If we both look out for JJ, and so does everyone else who cares about him, hopefully he won’t go too far.”
Jen stood up to hug her cousin. When Hope left, she sat down again and flipped through the pictures on her phone. She found one from a long time ago of her with Jack and both the kids. JJ had been about eight years old then; he had his father’s mischievous gleam in his eye and he was grinning broadly. She shook her head, blinking back tears as she stared at it.
Marissa decided to head back to the dorms after Hope dismissed her. The coffee was wearing off and she was exhausted.
She heard a creaking noise behind her as she put her key into the lock. Her entire body tensed up and she dropped the key on the floor. She picked it up, quickly, and ran to the end of the hall where she flattened herself against a wall to see who was there.
Someone came out of the room across the hall from her and went in the other direction. Marissa didn’t dare move until they were gone. She went back down the hall, looking over her shoulder to make sure that nobody was following her. She opened the door quickly; as soon as she got inside, she slammed it closed and locked it. She stood against the door, breathing hard. Her legs felt like they weren’t going to support her weight; her knees buckled and she slid down to the floor. She sat against the door, hugging her knees to her chest. Tears rolled down her face and her shoulders shook, but she didn’t make a sound.
Eve was in the living room when Paige and Daphne came in. “Uh, Mom, hi,” Paige said. “This is Daphne, the girl I’m moving in with.”
“It is so nice to meet you,” Eve said. “Paige has told me so much about you. Every other word out of her mouth these days is Daphne Daphne Daphne.”
“Mom!” Paige said.
“It’s all right. I’ve heard a lot about you too, Mrs. Larson.”
“Then you should have heard that I expect everyone to call me Eve.”
“Right. I forgot.”
“We’d better get started so we don’t have to be out in the dark,” Paige said. “Mom, we just came by to pick up some of my stuff.”
Eve’s face fell. “Oh,” she said. “Well, all right. I’ll be out here if…” But Paige was already heading to her room. “If you need anything,” Eve said.
While Chloe was with Parker, Daniel decided to get caught up on his paperwork. He was in his office, taking notes on a patient’s chart, when Jen knocked.
“Aunt Maggie told me about Parker,” Jen said. “I didn’t know if you’d be okay with me coming to visit him, but I just wanted to say that I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks.” Daniel didn’t look up from the chart he was working on. Jen sighed and said, “You know, when I was pregnant with JJ I was told that he was going to be so disabled that he’d never be able to live a normal life. And look at him now. So I’m sure Parker will make a full recovery.”
“Yeah. So am I.” Daniel put his pen down. “Listen, Jen, I’m sure it would cheer Parker up if you stopped in to see him. Chloe’s with him right now and she wants her privacy, but maybe later - “
“Good. I’m glad Chloe was able to make it.” Jen smiled, but Daniel looked up and he could see the sadness in her eyes.
“Did you need to talk about something?” Daniel asked her. “You look kind of… I don’t know… like the weight of the world’s on your shoulders.”
Jen nodded. “I don’t know that this is the right time to bring it up, but… I’m really worried about my son and I wanted to make sure that you and I are on the same page about him right now.”
Daniel rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look, Jennifer, I’m not up for anything intense right now, for reasons that should be obvious.”
“Oh no, nothing intense. Of course not.” Jen played with her ring. “I know you and I have had our differences--a lot of them--but the one thing I think we can agree on is that we both want what’s best for my son.”
“Of course. I care about JJ. And about Abigail too. And Jennifer, I don’t think we can ever be what we were, but you do know that I still care about you.”
“I know,” Jen mumbled. She sighed deeply. “But getting back to JJ… Daniel, I think he may be in trouble.”
“What… what kind of trouble?”
Jen shook her head. “It’s starting all over again. The staying out til all hours of the night, the not talking to me, the hanging out with that pothead friend of his. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I keep thinking that if I don’t put a stop to this, one of these days I’m going to wake up to another phone call from Hope that my son is in jail.” Jen blinked back tears. “I can’t bear that thought, Daniel, and if you and I can’t agree on how to deal with him, it’s just going to make it that much worse.”
Daniel’s headache was getting worse; he rubbed his temples and said, slowly, “Okay, Jennifer, first of all, I want you to know that I would never undermine your relationship with JJ. If he comes to me, yeah I talk with him and yeah I keep it between the two of us, but I always… I always encourage him to go to you.”
“I appreciate that.” Jen twisted her ring. She turned away from Daniel, trying to get her thoughts together. “When JJ was a little boy, his father and I just couldn’t see eye-to-eye about his behavior. I thought JJ was getting too wild. Jack thought he was just spirited. At first it was just friendly disagreements but by the time JJ was old enough for boarding school…” she shook her head. “It was either send him away or our marriage was over.”
“That was a hell of a choice,” Daniel said, remembering how JJ had once angrily demanded that Jennifer choose between Daniel and him.
“It was my idea to send JJ to that school,” Jen said softly. “I mean, Abigail had gone, but JJ didn’t really want to, and Jack thought we should keep him home so we could try to work things out as a family. But Jack and I were fighting all the time over JJ’s behavior, and without some space I didn’t see any way… and now, I will always wonder, if I hadn’t made that choice, would my son be so troubled?”
“You were doing the best you could to keep your marriage from falling apart,” Daniel said. “You do know that, don’t you? And also, Jennifer, also, whatever happened then, JJ is an adult now. So I don’t know what it is you expect from me, but I can tell you, he has to make his own choices and we… we have to let him.”
“Yes. His own choices.” Jen turned back towards Daniel. “It’s just, I understand now that you and I are better apart than together… but JJ, he still looks up to you, Daniel… so as far as parenting him goes, I don’t want us to be on opposite sides like Jack and I ended up being.”
“What exactly is it you’re worried about?”
“I… I think I made a mistake last night with JJ. I let - “
Just then, Kayla knocked on the door, then came in. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “Daniel, I have some news about Parker that can’t wait.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “Did we get his blood panel back?”
“I think you’d better step into my office.”
“I gotta go tell Chloe.” Daniel sounded stunned. “Jennifer, if you wanna look in on Parker for a few minutes, now is… now is probably a good time.” As Jen started to get up, he said, “If you wanna continue this conversation later…”
“Parker comes first,” Jen said, blinking back tears too. “But if you have a free moment, maybe you could call me?”