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CHAPTER FORTY: ten minutes

They got to see him for ten minutes each, but no more, and that was about all Josie could take. Luke’s large frame was dwarfed by the sheer amount of machinery needed to keep him alive. Tubes and wires seemed to extend from every part of him, IVs snaking from both arms, his hands and the crooks of his elbows. A large tube was jammed into his mouth and taped there. His blue hospital gown was haphazardly thrown across him and, from beneath it, zigzagging across his chest, were wire leads connecting to various machines. Multicolored numbers flashed across the monitors that surrounded them. On his head was a large blue shower cap. He didn’t look like Luke at all.

She approached the bed slowly, afraid she might dislodge something important. It was freezing in the room, and she wondered if he was warm enough. But he was always warm. He’d often wake to open one of the windows in her bedroom in the middle of the night, only to have her get up to close it later. “Leave it open,” he would whisper sleepily from the bed. “I’ll warm you up.”

The memory hit her hard like a baseball bat across her shoulders. An involuntary cry escaped her lips. Tears blurred her vision. She took a stumbling step toward the bed and tried to find a place on his arm where her hand would fit. She needed to touch him, to feel his body warm beneath her palm. She needed him to know she was there. The wiry hairs of his forearm were springy beneath her hand. His skin was cool and dry. She squeezed gently. More tears spilled from her eyes as she realized there was no way he could feel her touch. Not with all the artificial life-saving, vital-monitoring equipment attached to him and the remnants of the anesthesia from his surgery. She couldn’t even imagine what they were pumping him full of to keep him under.

“Luke,” she choked. “I’m here. I’m right here. I’m so—” Her voice

broke, and she had to gather herself. “I’m so sorry that this happened. Please don’t—please don’t—”

She couldn’t finish. She wanted to tell him she wasn’t angry about Denise Poole and her stupid painting or about the closet door he had bought. She just wanted him to be okay.

But then the nurse was there, softly ushering her out of the room and out of the ICU altogether. The closing of the swinging door behind her sounded like her heart cracking in two. Wiping tears away with the sleeve of her jacket, she found her way to the small waiting room where Carrieann enveloped her in a long hug that crushed the breath out of her. She was glad when it was over.

People around them scrolled on their phones, slept on the chairs, or stared sightlessly at the television mounted in the corner of the room playing a late-night show on mute. Several state troopers stood along the far wall, near the windows. Josie eyed them warily as she found two chairs pushed together where she might be able to curl up on her side and get some sleep. She didn’t recognize any of them, although she didn’t really know Luke’s coworkers.

She used her jacket for a pillow and curled on her right side. Carrieann sat beside her at first, but after a few minutes she stood up and paced the room. Josie closed her eyes and listened to the rhythmic sound of her boots on the linoleum, until it lulled her to sleep.

She woke to daylight and a vibration beneath her head. Blinking awake, she sat up and spent several seconds trying to extricate her cell phone from her jacket pocket. It still had a charge, but there wasn’t much left. She recognized Ginger Blackwell’s number immediately, having memorized it because she didn’t want to save it as a contact in her phone. Looking around, she didn’t see Carrieann anywhere. A new group of state troopers lined the far wall. A new shift. Josie whispered a hello into the phone as she exited the waiting room.

“Miss Quinn?” Ginger’s voice held none of the fatigue that Josie’s did.

She was clear and sharp, her words like spikes in Josie’s temples.

“Yes,” Josie said. She slinked down the hallway like she’d just stolen something, searching for a ladies’ room.

“This is Gin— Are you okay? Can you hear me?”

Josie cleared her throat. She spotted the sign with the tiny stick figure in a dress down the hall and picked up her pace. “I’m fine,” she said,

trying to sound more alert and awake. “What’s going on?”

“I had something to tell you. I remembered something. At least, I think I remember. I had a dream about it. Did you get my file?”

Inside the ladies’ room, Josie bent to look beneath the stalls. Miraculously, she was alone, but she didn’t know how long that would last. “I did. I have to tell you, Ginger, there’s a lot of stuff missing.”

“Missing? Like what?”

“Like the rape kit they took at the hospital. They took DNA from that.

Do you remember?”

“Of course I do. It was horrible—very… invasive.”

Josie could feel her shudder through the phone. “I’m sorry. Let me ask you—do you know what it showed?”

Silence. “Ginger?”

A rustling sound. Josie thought she could hear Marlowe whine in the background. “It showed—there was evidence. Corroborating my story.”

“So they told you what the results were?”

“They did. One of the officers told us that the analysis of the rape kit showed… I’m sorry. I can’t.”

“It’s okay,” Josie said. “I was just curious whether they told you.” “That’s why we were so shocked when they started accusing me of

orchestrating the whole thing. A few weeks earlier they had come to us and said the rape kit proved I was telling the truth… about the men.”

“The results weren’t in the file, but I did manage to find a copy of them. But I need to know how far this goes. I’d like to see what the medical records say, which I guess we’d have to get from the hospital. If they still exist.”

Ginger sounded relieved. “Oh well, my husband has the hospital records. He ordered a copy of them himself when the investigation started. Can I just email you the file?”

“Of course. That would be great.” As Josie rattled off her email address, she heard the squeak of the door opening and turned to see a tall state trooper in full uniform walking through the door. He froze when he saw her.

Josie said, “This is the ladies’ room.” Ginger said, “What?”

The trooper took a step back so he could study the sign on the wall outside of the door. He gave her a sheepish smile. “Oh shit,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“The men’s room is across the hall,” Josie told him.

Ginger said, “Miss Quinn? What’s going on?”

Into the phone, in the steadiest voice she could manage, Josie said, “I have to go. I’ll call you back later.” But she could barely hear her own voice over her pounding heart.

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Written by Amazing Thing Admin

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CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: Carrieann Creighton