"What's going on? Are Shelby and Mas--"
"No, it's not them."
I let out a little sigh of relief. Even from our position in the living room, I could hear Brenna happily chattering to herself. "Then...?"
I groaned. Leave it to Joe. "What happened?"
Dad ran a hand down his face. "He never brought Krista back. And he never came home." I gasped. "He ran away?"
"I don't know what that boy is doing. Or what he's thinking. I feel like God's constantly giving me hard kicks in the ass for all the grief I caused your grandma."
"Did anyone go out and look for him?"
Dad's lip twitched. "Kevin and I went out right after we got the call. Kevin and your mom are out right now. Your mom told me it might be better if I'm not the one to find him."
I didn't say it, but I kinda agreed. "He'll turn up," I said confidently.
"Unfortunately, it's not me he has to worry about when he does," dad said.
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," dad sat down on the couch, hunching forward. "he's technically responsible for kidnapping a ward of the state. The police are out looking for them. If Joe gets caught...well, I don't know what's going to happen."
My pulse skipped. Something was bothering me, tickling the back of my mind. "Dad," I said slowly. "Joe was dressed so nicely and excited about this. It doesn't seem like he would do this just to spite you. There has to be another reason..."
I knew enough about life at the rehab center to know what a night out for Krista might mean.
"She probably didn't want to go back," I murmured.
"Krista," I said. "She probably didn't want to go back. I mean," I paused. "after being out among everyone and enjoying a nice dinner and maybe a movie, do you really think she would have been eager for him to take her back?"
Dad's eyes widened in realization. "I didn't think about that."
"And, I've got to admit that Joe really likes her," I continued. "I don't see him being hardass and telling her that she has no choice. I think sometimes he feels like he's trapped and he'd sympathize with her."
"You had me all the way up to the part where Joe feels trapped. How the hell is he trapped? His problem is being spoiled. Which, is my fault, but still..."
"I'm just saying that it's the feeling I get from him," I explained. "That's why he's always trying to push the boundaries."
"So what does your twinny sense tell you about where he might be?" dad asked.
That was the question I didn't know how to answer. I shook my head. "I really don't know. But I think I might know who would."
"What is this place?"
"It's a place for hurt people to get better."
"It smells funny. Kinda like pee."
"Why don't we go outside?"
Bren looked up at dad and nodded. She crinkled her nose and glanced out towards the courtyard. "I wanna sit under the big tree."
"Okay, big tree it is. Al, you going to be okay?"
I smiled. "I'll be fine. This is home turf by now."
"Turf smells like pee!" Bren announced. Dad took her hand and opened the door with an apologetic look at a passing nurse. I turned and headed off in search of Blanche.
I found her in the room where Kim and I usually did our makeovers. She was working with some of the younger kids. A large roll of paper was spread out over a table and dozens of large crayons were scatterd about. When I entered, she was standing behind a young girl, trying to show her the proper way to hold a blue crayon.
"Hi Blanche," I said, not wanting to startle the woman. She looked up quickly; I didn't think she was all that surprised to see me.
"Ally," she said. "What brings you here?"
Her normally warm and friendly tone was much less friendlier. I had a feeling she knew why I was there.
"I was hoping to talk to Jessica," I explained.
"I don't know if that's a good idea," Blanche said cooly.
Old Ally would have backed down, lest I offend her more. But, my emerging self, a self I kinda liked, was taking hold. "The only way we're going to find Krista is if I walk to Jess."
"And how do you know that?"
"Just a hunch. They might bicker, but I know Krista and Jess are as close to friends as you can get around here."
"Around here everyone is a friend," Blanche shot back. My mouth dropped open.
"What world are you living in Blanche?"
I don't know how he entered so quietly, but once I heard his voice, my ears zeroed in on the soft tap of his walking stick. I turned around. Cole was heading in our direction. An irrational part of me wondered if he had some type of honing device where I was concerned.
"The day I become friends with Krista is the day I wake up seeing and decide to become an exotic dancer," Cole quipped. The imagery was so ludacris that I really had to bite my cheek to keep from smiling. The look on Blanche's face was priceless.
"Now, I could care less if she comes back," Cole added. "But seeing as Ally's brother has probably gotten duped by the witch and doesn't deserve more days in juvie than what he's already going to get, I'd say we better let her talk to Jess."
I could have kissed him. I almost wished he could have seen my face at the moment. Instead, I opted for words that didn't exactly convey exactly how grateful I was.
"Thank you," I said gently.
"Just telling it like it is," Cole said gruffly, switching into his 'cold' mode. I watched him make his way towards the chair by the window. When he was seated, I turned back to Blanche. She looked like she had a sour taste in her mouth. I had never thought the woman could have been anything other than sweet.
I was wrong.
"Okay," she relented. "I'll let you talk to Jess."