There's coffee, tea and hot chocolate in the decanters on the counter. There's a variety of freshly baked jelly and cream filled doughnuts apple fritters and maple bars on the counter. Ice cold milk is in the fridge beneath.
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The sheriff stood in the doorway and kindly waited while I prayed for some response-a twitching finger or fluttering eyelid, but Grandpa's spirit failed to answer. I'd never felt more alone in my life.
I turned finally to the sheriff. My throat felt raw as I swallowed the last of my pride. "I ... I think Mrs. Baker ... I mean Katherine Baker will take me in. I can call her?"
I'd run out of the house without my purse or cell phone, so I marched out to the nurse's station. "I need to make a call."
Not bothering to lift her gaze from stack of charts on her desk, the nurse answered, "There's a phone in the lobby."
My pulse hammered through the veins near my ear. My eyes filled with tears. "Look at me, do I look like I have any money on me? I rode here in the ambulance with my grandpa."
The nurse looked up at me and then at the sheriff behind me. She lifted the beige colored phone from her desk to the counter above. "Sorry ... here you go ... just dial 9 to get an outside line."
I picked up the receiver and punched in Stacy's home phone.
Ring ... ring...
God I hope Stacy doesn't answer.
Ring ... ring...
Stacy's voice came on the line. "We're not home. Leave a message after the beep."
I pushed down the white buttons to hang up and started to dial Stacy's cell. I stopped at the last number.
I don't want to talk to Stacy.
Punching in a two instead of a three, I prayed their phones were like mine, one number off from my grandpa's.
"Hello." It was Stacy's mom.
My throat swelled allowing only a whimper to escape.
"Hello. Who is this?"
"Mm ... Mrs. Baker. I ... It's me ... Crystal.
"Crystal. Are you alright honey?"
"N-nooo. Grandpa was attacked. He's in a coma. I need a place to stay."
"Oh my God. Where are you?"
I broke into sobs. The sheriff brushed the back of my shoulder then took the receiver. "Mrs. Baker this is Sheriff Jacobs. Crystal needs a place to stay for awhile. Are you willing to take her in?"
The nurse handed me a box of tissue as I waited until the sheriff turned to me with a smile and a nod. I dabbed at the tears that continued to pour. The sheriff and another nurse helped me back to the waiting room and stayed `til the chaplain showed up and then I just lost all control as emptiness swallowed me whole.
I don't know who called him in, but my only thought when I saw him was that Grandpa was never going to wake up.
The chaplain held me his arms around my shoulders until Mrs. Baker showed up. By then, my sobs subsided, but when I saw her, my grief turned to anger, which seethed in the depth of my soul as I thought of Stacy being held in the safety of Jim's muscular arms. I shrugged the chaplain's arm from shoulder, tossed the hospital's blanket on the seat and marched out to Mrs. Baker's slate blue Lexus Rx10 and got in without a word. I was so angry, I barely felt the morning's chill through the fire raging within. I stared through the windshield as a subtle pink stain crested over the Sierra Nevadas.
I knew I should be grateful, but I couldn't bring myself to say so.
Mrs. Baker seemed reluctant to speak as well, but she found her words, "Crystal, I, uh ... understand how you must feel. I hope your grandfather will pull through, and then perhaps you and Stacy can get past this thing with Jim."
Get past it. How could I get past it? I don't want to get past it. Stacy and I are through!
My gaze darted to Mrs. Baker and back to the floorboard. I held my tongue and turned away, cooling my forehead against the closed window.
Mrs. Baker sighed. "Well, one disaster at a time then. If you feel up to it, I'll take you by your house and then you can follow me home in your car."
"Why can't I stay at my house?" I groaned.
"I don't think that's a good idea right now. You shouldn't be alone after all that's happened."
"Well I'm not ready to see your daughter right now, either."
"Listen, young lady, I know you're hurting, but you're going to have to get over your tiff with Jim and Stacy. And just so you know, Stacy won't be at my house. She and Jim got married last night in Tahoe. They're spending their honeymoon on his dad's boat."
Mrs. Baker's voice sharpened to a fine edge. "I'm not too happy about it myself, but Stacy's pregnant. Jim's dad got them an apartment near UCLA so she'll be moving out when they get back."
The angry fire that had coursed though my veins cooled instantly. I shivered at the loss. I shook my head, not believing how devastated my life had become in the course of one day. I shuddered to think what would happen next.
Stacy. Pregnant. When? How?
Well I knew how, but I couldn't believe all this had happened under my nose. I snuck another look at Mrs. Baker and saw the worry and pain I'd missed earlier.
She must feel as betrayed as I do, only she couldn't turn her back on the little b---h!
I lifted my chin and turned to her, refusing to let my emotions take over. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Baker, I didn't know."
Mrs. Baker's lips curled into a gentle smile. "We're practically family, call me Kate."
I nodded. Maybe we could be friends-two crumbling walls leaning against each other to keep from falling flat on our a==es. I had always gotten along with older people. Not that Kate was all that old. She was on the edge of forty, but I thought of her more like an older sister or a favorite aunt than my friend's mother.
X-friend, there was no way in hell I was ready to forgive Stacy.
And as for the mountain lion. If I ever saw him again, he'd be road kill.
Was he man or beast? I had to find out. For my sanity's sake. What if I hadn't imagined the man beneath the fur? All he'd have to do is change into a man and walk away. Animal Control would never bring him in.
I closed my eyes, seeing again the face that was burned into my memory. He was definitely Native American, but I had no idea which tribe.
I sat straight up in the seat holding my breath as Mrs ... I mean Kate turned up the road to Grandpa's house.
He'd looked right at me.
After what I'd done, he'd be coming after me next. My heart skipped a beat. What if he could change into anything or anyone?
I peered cautiously back at Mrs. Baker and scooted closer to the door. My hand crept to the handle, ready pull it up and jump out if...
No, her eyes were pale blue not gold. I remembered when the cat changed into a man his eyes had remained the same. It gave me a little comfort. At least Mrs. Baker-I mean, Kate-wasn't a threat.
There was a helluva lot of crap I didn't know. Who was the mountain lion/man? Who or what was I for that matter, and how was my grandfather involved?
Maybe this mysterious uncle he spoke of had some answers.
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