Ties That Bind Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen

Chapter Thirteen

She really needed to question her sanity. 

At some point in the last couple of weeks, Paige was sure she must’ve lost her mind somewhere along the way. She had no idea what she was doing anymore. It was one thing to think she could get to the bottom of a mystery, but continuing to dig after having the crap scared out of her, just didn’t make sense. She wanted to blame Nick for the uncharacteristic behavior, but deep down, she knew he wasn’t the problem.

She was.

Her curiosity was what had led her down the path she was on. The one that had her standing in front of her grandpa’s room in his new assisted living facility. The grandpa whose memory had disappeared nearly overnight. One day he seemed fine; the next, he barely remembered his loved ones. Some moments were better than others. Paige just hoped this moment was one of his good ones.

She took a deep breath, then held it until her vision started to blur and her lungs began to burn. Wasting time wasn’t going to change what she needed to do. As much as Paige didn’t want to pull her grandpa into whatever it was she was looking into, she knew it didn’t matter. He was already in the middle of it, at least waist deep, if not deeper. The truth was what was important now. It didn’t matter to her who she had to go through to get it.

The air whooshed out of her in a long, loud rush as she shook her arms at her sides, then rolled her shoulders. Each movement was an attempt to alleviate the tension that had taken residence in her body the second Nick mentioned talking to her grandpa. The thought had made her nauseous even though she knew it was the right step to take.

“Enough stalling, Paige,” she muttered before taking one last deep breath, then letting it out slowly. 

Before she could think twice about it, Paige brought her hand up and knocked lightly on the slightly ajar door. She didn’t wait for an invitation to push the door open and walk inside. There was too much at stake, and waiting would only give her another chance to chicken out. A chance she absolutely didn’t need.

“Hey, Grandpa,” she chirped as she walked inside.

Knowing that approaching him when he wasn’t lucid was dangerous, she waited until he had a chance to acknowledge her presence before she got too close.

“My beautiful Paige girl. It’s so good to see you.”

She smiled over at the man that she remembered. So full of life. This was the grandpa she’d grown up with. The man who’d taken over as the father figure after her dad died. While she wasn’t the Reynolds child he fathered the most, she’d still occasionally felt his presence. As the smile on his face brightened, a part of her felt bad about the questions she was about to ask him. 

“It’s good to see you, too. How are you feeling?” she asked before leaning over and kissing the old man’s cheek. “They better be treating you right here.”

“Come on. Have you seen this place? It’s like a five-star resort for old people. If you’re going to be forced out of your house, this is where you want to be sent,” he laughed. “I’m feeling good, my girl. I know you and your mom feel bad about making the tough call, but this is where I need to be.”

The guilt had been nearly unbearable. 

The man who’d always been larger than life and the backbone of her family should’ve been able to make the call about where he spent the rest of his days. Unfortunately, letting him do that wasn’t the safest option for any of them. That had become abundantly clear when he’d nearly set the house on fire.

Still, taking that choice away from him had eaten away at her, and it still did on occasion, even though she knew they’d made the right decision. Just like she was making the right call now.

She made small talk with the old man while they played a couple of games of cards. It was like the hours they’d spent before his illness took over like nothing had changed except their surroundings. And even then, the walls of her grandpa’s room looked eerily like the walls of his home. They were covered with pictures and memorabilia from his playing years, as well as those of her dad and brother. There was only one picture of her in the entire space and none of her Aunt Carol. 

It was exactly like his house.

As time passed, and her grandpa seemed to get tired, Paige knew her window was starting to close. If she was going to ask him about Abby and the camera, she had to do it now. The more tired he got, the less lucid he’d become.

“Hey, Grandpa, I should probably head out, but before I go, I need to ask you something.”

“Sure, Paige girl, whatcha want to know?”

She took a deep breath and pulled her phone out of her pocket to show him a picture of Abby and Lucy. As she handed over the phone, she let the air out of her burning lungs.

“Do you know this girl?” she asked, the picture of Abby blown up on the screen so her grandpa could see it clearly.

His brows furrowed as he looked the picture over. She could see the moment recognition settled in, even if the gasp he released hadn’t given it away. It didn’t matter that she knew this was exactly how things would go. There was still a tiny piece of hope she’d been carrying with her. Hope that he wouldn’t recall Abby’s face or that the dementia would have taken the memories from him. 

Guilt about what she had to do next made bile rise in her throat. She choked it down, then reached over and swiped her finger across her screen to change the picture from one of Abby to one of Lucy. Another gasp escaped from her grandpa as he dropped her phone onto the table, the cards they’d been playing with scattering. 

“No…no…no. It was all just an accident. I didn’t mean to. He didn’t mean to. The woods were the only place.”

Her grandpa’s ramblings became frantic as he started rocking back and forth. He repeated the words over and over while he rubbed his hands over his head, grabbing at the already disheveled strands of hair. He looked up at her then, despair staining his features. 

“I had to help. I had to protect him. I’m sorry, Carol. I’m so sorry.”

“Grandpa, who did you have to help? What happened? What does Aunt Carol have to do with this?” she asked, though the older man didn’t even seem to realize she was still there. 

He was trapped in a memory that she’d brought on. Tears streamed down his face, and they were her fault. Her heart ached in her chest, the cracking of it nearly audible. Except it wasn’t her heart breaking that she heard, but the crash of her grandpa’s first against the table as he let out a bellow that scared the crap out of her.

Paige scrambled to get her phone, then backed away from the man before her. Anger had replaced the sadness. His gaze fell on her, and she immediately took another step back. It didn’t matter that the table separated them or that her reflexes were faster than his. The look in his eyes had her entire body shaking with fear.

“What the hell is happening in here?” someone asked as they pushed open the door to her grandpa’s room.

A nurse looked from Paige to her grandpa, then back to Paige. “What did you do?”

“We were just talking.”

The lie fell from her lips a little too easily, but the other woman smelled it for what it was. The nurse glared at her as she shook her head, then turned her attention back to the old man having a breakdown.

“Joseph, it’s okay. You’re safe. Everything’s fine,” she said in a soothing tone, then turned back to Paige. “You need to go.”

Paige looked over at her grandpa one last time, sending him a silent apology, then grabbed her purse and rushed from the room. Once she reached her car, the tears began to fall, her body still shaking from fear but also from the pain she knew she’d caused him. Nick jumped out of the car and pulled her into his arms. He knew the conversation wouldn’t be easy and had volunteered to join her, but wait for her outside. She’d tried to tell him it wasn’t necessary, that she didn’t know how long it would take, and he’d get bored. But he insisted, and finally, she relented.

Boy, was she glad she’d given in. Having him console her was helping, like his hug was zapping away every ounce of guilt and shame she felt. Once she felt a little bit better and the tears had subsided enough, he led her over to the passenger side of the car, and helped her inside, then made his way to the driver’s side.

As he drove them back to her house, he didn’t ask her how things went. Instead, he turned up the radio and obnoxiously sang along to every song that came on. Even when he didn’t know the right words. Paige laughed at his antics even though she didn’t feel like laughing. And she knew that was exactly what Nick was hoping for.

Unfortunately, the feeling of levity vanished quicker than either of them would’ve liked. Finding the apron and the articles, talking to her grandpa, his outburst. All of it pointed toward the conclusion she still couldn’t fathom yet couldn’t deny. But before she brought her circumstantial evidence to the police, she had one more place she needed to go. Even though she knew searching the woods would be like looking for a thirty-year-old needle in a thirty-year-old haystack, she knew she had to try.

There was something in those woods that would take her conclusion from speculation to fact. Paige wasn’t sure how to look for it, but maybe her new partner would. 

Together, they’d gather the pieces, then take them to the people who could ensure that Abby and Lucy got the justice they deserved. Even if justice meant ruining the Reynolds name.

Chapter Fourteen

Neither Nick nor Taylor could go to the woods with her after she talked to her grandpa, which meant Paige’s investigation was at a standstill. Sleep was hard to come by. Dreams filled with Abby and Lucy woke her up nearly every half an hour until she got so fed up she didn’t even bother trying to fall back to sleep.

Normally, she would’ve been pissed when her phone rang at six-thirty in the morning, but it gave her the excuse she needed to finally get out of bed. When she saw who was calling, she considered ignoring it and crawling back under the covers to hide, but she knew her mom wouldn’t give up if she failed to answer. If she let it go long enough, she’d show up on Paige’s doorstep, which was the last thing she wanted.

Her mom only called her when she was in trouble, or she had great news about Jake. Paige knew it had to be the former in this case, especially after her visit to her grandpa the day before. 

“What the fuck were you thinking, Paige?”

She hadn’t even had a chance to say hello before her mom began to lay into her. Heck, she didn’t even get a chance to answer her mom’s first question before she pelted her with a few more that were just variations of the same thing.

“Do you even realize what you’ve done? Your grandfather is in a precarious place, Paige. Now he’s had a terrible setback, all because you had to go there and bother him with inane questions. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

“I didn’t mean to upset him,” she said, though she knew it would piss her mom off more.

“What did you think was going to happen? This little quest of yours is hurting your family. Is that what you want? Are you trying to hurt us, Paige? Did we do something to you that now you want to get back at us? Your poor brother…”

Paige rolled her eyes, glad that her mom couldn’t see her. “I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m just looking for the truth.”

“The truth about what? Some girl from three decades ago? How about you live in the present, Paige, and leave this alone. Nothing good will come from you continuing down this path. I’m going to have to tell your grandfather’s facility that you’re no longer allowed to visit him.”

The threat hit exactly where Lisa Reynolds wanted it to. Anger simmered in Paige’s gut. Her mom would use anything she could to manipulate her daughter, and she knew she’d get away with it if she used someone Paige loved as leverage.

But the truth was important. What happened to Abby and Lucy mattered. If her family was involved, then someone needed to know. She needed to know if hurting innocent girls was something her family was capable of. Even if she had no idea what she’d do once she knew what really happened, Paige knew she couldn’t stop.

“I’m sorry I upset Grandpa, but this is important.”

“You’re going to regret this, Paige.”

The venom in her mom’s words had her recoiling even though there were miles between them. She was pissed enough she’d just threatened her daughter. But it still didn’t make any sense. What was her mom worried about? 

Before she could manage a response, the other woman hung up the phone, leaving Paige reeling. She sat on the edge of her bed, staring at her phone, a litany of emotions warring inside her. 

Eventually, anger won out.

“How dare she threaten me. Who does she think she is?” 

She continued to grumble to herself as she made her bed, then went around her room gathering up what she needed for the day. Paige stared at the clothes in her closet, trying to figure out what to wear to work, when she realized the task was more difficult than usual because that wasn’t where she was going. She was going to the woods.

Was it a dumb move calling in sick to her job two days in a row? Probably. Did it matter? Definitely not.

It was obvious she’d be useless if she even tried. Her entire focus would be on Abby, the camera, her mom’s reaction, and what her grandpa said. Paige knew she’d have the unending questions running through her head all day instead of the tasks she was supposed to be concentrating on.

She made a quick call to her boss, then went about getting ready for the day. She heard Taylor up and moving around the house, getting ready for her own work day. Part of her wanted to ask her friend not to go to work and instead visit the woods with her, but she knew not only would she not agree to go with her. Taylor would also do everything she could to keep Paige from going.

But nothing could stop her. Paige needed to know why Abby had taken a picture of a man with a shovel the night she died. And why did her grandpa have Abby’s camera and bag and an apron that she was almost positive belonged to the still-missing Lucy Edwards?

The answers to those questions were in those woods. Paige wasn’t sure where they were, but she hoped the pictures would help guide her. She knew she should wait for Nick to finish his morning meeting before heading up to where Abby spent her last hours. Paige knew she shouldn’t go alone, but she couldn’t keep waiting. The longer she waited, the crazier she felt.

Also, the longer she delayed the inevitable, the more time she gave someone to beat her to the woods to find whatever was there. Maybe that was just her being paranoid, but it didn’t feel like paranoia. Her mother knew more than she was letting on, and so did Cal. Did they know what was in the woods and where? If they did, would they go up there and move whatever was there to keep her from discovering the truth?

How deep did this secret go, and how far would whoever was involved go to keep Paige from finding out the truth?