Here's the last of the quartet of novellas. This one is Jane's.
Cynthia Overton, angrily determined to find Murr Raley, dragged the blond man she’d just been introduced to into the maze. What was his name again? Something beginning with Q? Oh, yes, Quentin. She’d been in no mood to pay attention to his last name. Especially since she was sure Lynn had deliberately introduced them so she could slip away to meet Murr.
“I told you I haven’t memorized the maze pattern,” he protested hanging back. “We should have stopped at the desk for a guide.”
“I know how,” she lied, forging on despite the fact the full moon had slipped behind a cloud. Surely it wasn’t all that complicated. She was determined to confront Murr and that would-be usurper Lynn, with a man by her side. Especially since Quentin was an attractive one.
What seemed like ages later, as they finally stumbled into the center, she saw no one else was there.
“Alone at last, ” Quentin said, reaching for her.
Cynthia shoved him away. Her hair a tangle from being caught by branches she knew she’d also torn her gown, and she was in no mood for being kissed by this stranger.
“Hey,” he protested. “I thought you dragged me in here so we could have a bit of privacy.”
“In your dreams,” she muttered. The two candles burning beside the little pool made her certain she was too late. The couple had been here and gone. All she wanted now was to find a quick way out of this miserable maze
The moon broke free, showing her Quentin’s scowl. “What the hell are we doing here then?”
Cynthia prided herself on always being in command, but his annoyance tipped her over an edge she hadn’t realized she was so close to. To her horror she burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. After a bit she came out of it enough to feel Quentin patting her shoulder and murmuring soothingly. He produced a handkerchief and she began mopping her face. Regaining control, she realized her outburst had nothing to do with him, or even this failed search. She’d thought her brother’s death had hardly affected her, but now she understood she’d wept because she’d loved him despite all and now he was gone forever. Like Murr was, in a different way.
Clearing her throat, she started to speak, but Quentin got there first.
“Whatever upset you, I’m sorry about that. But it’s obvious you hauled me in here for your own purposes, which I figure have something to do with those two candles and nothing at all to do with me. I’d heard of ruthless Princess Overton, but it took until now for the coin to drop into the right slot. You’re well named. I’m curious--when was the last time you did something for someone else without any benefit in it for you? Maybe never? I’m getting out of here, and I suggest you follow or you’ll stay lost.”
Taken aback, she could find nothing to say. Embarrassed and humiliated, she hurried after him, annoyed that he seemed to miraculously find the way out.
In the hotel lobby she couldn’t resist a parting shot. “You knew the right way all the time.”
He shook his head. “I’m an engineer. From the mistakes you made on the way in, I figured the way out.” He turned and headed for the elevator.
Cynthia glared after him, fervently hoping she never came face to face with Engineer Quentin ever again.
The next day, driving her own convertible, Cynthia left the Quinnesec Hotel, intending never to return. She eased into sparse traffic and, as soon as she had a chance, passed every vehicle in sight. Then swore, because in racing past the last car, she’d missed a curve and had somehow got off on a gravel road. As she searched for a place to turn around, a boy ran out from a parked car headed the other way and waved at her, obviously trying to flag her down. She swerved to miss him, finally finding a spot wide enough to maneuver the car around. On the way back past the parked car, she found the boy standing in the middle of the road, crying.
When was the last time you did something for someone else without any benefit in it for you? Quentin’s accusation rang in her ears.
No benefit to her to stop. Damn Quentin and the kid, too. Instead of swerving around him again, she put on the brakes, skidding to a stop, gravel flying. “What’s the problem here?” She could hear the irritability in her voice. Well, she didn’t have to like it, did she?
“My sister,” he sniveled. “Our car broke down and she’s having a baby.” Cynthia blinked at him, then turned to look at the parked car. “Please help me,” a girl’s voice begged, her face white and drawn in the car window.
Having a baby? Good grief! Cynthia backed up the convertible, parked behind the broken-down car and got out, ordering her thoughts. Always be organized was her mantra. No way could she deliver a baby, so she’d have to haul the girl to a hospital as fast as possible, along with her brother. Problem then solved.
“We need to get your sister into my convertible,” she told the boy.
Which was not as easy as it sounded. The two of them had to half-carry her and then struggle to maneuver the moaning pregnant girl into the back seat of the convertible.
Cynthia put up the top before taking off with a roar. “Which way?” she asked the boy who shared the front seat with her.
“Left here,” he said, snuffling. “The hospital’s in Quinnesec.”
Remembering how, when packing, she’d decided for some reason against tossing the handkerchief Quentin had lent her, she eased it out of the side pocket of her purse and shoved it at the boy. “Keep it.” .
The girl in the back seat gave a little cry, tensing Cynthia. All she could remember about having babies was from TV shows and movies where they always seemed to be saying, “Push.”
“Don’t push,” she advised the girl.
“What’s your name?” the boy asked.
Hell, she hadn’t even thought of finding out who they were. “I’m Cynthia Overton. Who’re you?”
“Josh--uh, Rivers. She’s Debbie.”
Deciding this time she had a good reason to break the speed limit, Cynthia accelerated. Even then it seemed to take forever to reach Quinnesec. “Where’s the hospital?” she asked Josh.
“Turn left at the first light. It’s about five blocks up.”
Once there, she skidded into the ambulance entrance and parked just outside the ER doors. Rushing in, she shouted, “There’s a girl having a baby in the back seat of my car!”
In a flurry of activity, Debbie was whisked off on a gurney. Cynthia, told by one of the guards to move her car, did so. As she and Josh walked back toward the emergency room she asked where he and Debbie lived.
“Uh, nowhere right now.”
When she looked at him, he didn’t meet her eyes. “Surely you must have been headed somewhere.”
“Yeah, for the hospital, till the car broke down. We, uh, that’s all we got--the car to live in.”
Appalled, she decided she could at least get the car running again. “As soon as we make sure your sister’s all right, I’ll call a tow truck to bring your car to a garage. Okay?”
“We don’t have money to fix it,” Josh muttered.
“What about the baby’s father?”
Josh flinched as through she’d struck him. “No!”
Okay, something wrong there. Scratch that. “Any insurance?” She asked the question, knowing ahead of time the answer would be no. Which it was. Apparently there was no end to this Good Samaritan business Engineer Quincy had stuck her with.
Inside, as they passed a desk, the woman behind it asked, “Are you the ones with the young woman just brought in?”
Fortunately Josh knew Debbie’s birth date, making Cynthia realize just how young the girl was. She found herself assuming responsibility for hospital expenses. And, she realized, Josh as well. She could hardly leave him on his own. “We’re traveling,” she told the admssions clerk. “Can you recommend a decent nearby motel?”
When the clerk was finished, Cynthia asked how to get to wherever Debbie had been taken.
As they made their way though corridors to the main hospital, Cynthia said. “Here’s what I think you and your sister were doing. Running away from wherever you were. Which is why you have no money, just the car. Want to tell me about it?”
He shook his head.
Dead end. Is this what happened every time you tried to help people? An entanglement that got worse instead of better? But nineteen-year-old Debbie must been frightened out of her wits to take off so close to her delivery date. And bring along her brother, besides. Whatever she was afraid of, he was too, or he wouldn’t be with her. Damn, she was no social worker, trained in unraveling bad situations and finding solutions.
They reached the maternity ward where they were told Deborah Rivers was in a delivery room right now, and they were welcome to sit in the waiting area, Two men were there, talking while they waited. Cynthia had no desire to read any magazine she saw on the stand, and Josh sat slumped in a chair, shut inside himself, so whether she wanted to or not, she listened to the conversation of the men. The dark-haired man apparently was a realtor and was trying to interest the other in a Quinnesec property.
“It’s a great deal--a steal, I tell you,” he insisted. “With a seller eager to get rid of it. An old house, sure, but fixed up inside, with a separate two bedroom apartment attached. Rent that out and it’ll make the payments while you and your family live in rest of the house.” He named a price that Cynthia, who knew real estate, thought was too high for this area.
Before she realized what she meant to do, she blurted, “ At that price, it’s no steal. At three-quarters of what’s asked, maybe.”
The realtor stared at her, scowling. Then he switched to a smile. “You interested?”
Naturally she wasn’t, but to make up for having butted in, she took his card.
Shortly both men, one at a time, were summoned by different nurses and left the waiting room.
“Debbie won’t die, will she?” Josh’s voice reflected his fear.
“No.” Cynthia had no idea whether this was true or not, but the kid needed reassurance. “How old are you?”
“Be twelve in two days.”
So young. With only a nineteen-year-old sister to look after him. At the moment she felt even older than her thirty years. “Did you two have any plan in mind for after the baby was born?”
“Just to get away before it happened.”
No plans. Two kids and now a baby living in a car? Which reminded her. She eased her cell phone from her purse, took out her AAA card and made arrangements for the broken-down car to be towed to a local garage for repair.
“Thanks.” Josh reached into a pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “I took these ‘cause Debbie was hurting so bad I figured she might not remember.” He sniffled.
“Are you all right?” Cynthia asked as she took the keys.
“I miss Pogo. We had to get rid of him ’cause we ran out of money for dog food. We left him at a farmhouse way back somewhere on that road where we broke down. They said they’d take good care of him.”
“I’m sure they will.” She shook her head. A dog with them as well.
A nurse came in. “Are you with Deborah Rivers?”
They both nodded and followed her to a room.
Debbie lay in the bed, eyes closed, her face as white as the sheets. “Twin girls,” the nurse said in a low tone. “She was almost a month away from term, so they’re premies, but healthy. Deborah was anemic, so we gave her a blood transfusion and will keep her for a few days to be sure she’s okay. The babies will need to stay a bit longer.”
The dog was gone, but now two premature babies had been added to those living in the car.
Cynthia took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she reached a decision. . “Josh, stay with your sister. I’ll be back in an hour or so.