Chapter 18

"Well maybe if you weren't such a jerk, we wouldn't be having this problem!"

"Me? A jerk?"

"Yes, you. I mean, I can't believe you actually…"

The members of Creston Falls High School barely lifted an eyebrow at the series of familiar yells that echoed down the locker lined corridor. It was, of course, Kat and Josh.

"…would do such a thing!" Kat finished exasperatedly. Josh smirked cutely, and Kat struggled to remember what it was they were fighting over. Giving up, she threw out a random complaint: "Ohhhh! You're just so infuriating!" She scrunched up her nose and threw a playful fist into Josh's chest. Josh caught her hand against him, and then linked his fingers with hers as he pulled her into a walk alongside him. Not breaking his stride, he bent down and kissed the corner of her mouth, speaking softly against her lips.

"Yet, you still like me."

Kat shoved him off and rolled her eyes, although a tiny smile betrayed her true sentiments. She stole a glance at Josh from the corner of her eye and said, "So what if I like you! That just means that you're an extremely likeable infuriating person."

At this point, the high school students had stopped their normal routines to take a look at the new couple. There was no doubting it. It was a definite change, one that would take some getting used to.

Kat and Josh continued down the hall, pretending not to notice the attention they were drawing. It had been expected, especially with the way their school horded around the gossip mill like ants on picnic food. So they were a new couple? Get over it, and get on with your lives. And soon enough, that's what they did. Conversations resumed, lockers began to slam once more, and Kat and Josh parted ways for their individual classes.

Lessons went by unusually slowly that day, as teachers began stressing the importance of material that would wind up on the final exams. The year was rapidly (and thankfully) coming to a close, and the teachers were about to slip into panic mode as they struggled to rush through the rest of the curriculum with inadequate time. By the time lunch rolled around, Kat was thankful for the break. Josh met her at her locker and together, they walked down the hallway to the lunchroom.

"So, where do you wanna sit?" asked Josh once they had entered. What he really meant was, 'so, are we sitting at your normal table, or my normal table?' But it was a pleasant surprise to find that their friends had shoved their two tables together, conversing amicably amongst themselves. It seemed that, now that the white flag was definitely raised between Kat and Josh, friends could actually interact together. After all, when they weren't with Kat or Josh, the duo's companions would often intermingle. It was sort of funny how two people held such an impact on the social workings of the school.

As they approached the table, their friends began looking up in interest. Kat immediately located Becca and walked over to the chair beside her. She found, with some disappointment, that there weren't two empty seats next to each other. But that problem was quickly solved when Jack, Josh's friend, picked up the empty chair beside him and handed it over the table to Josh. There was some quick chair-scooting, and then (presto!) an empty space was left in the area beside Kat's chair. Josh put the chair down in the free floor space and sat down while Kat shook her head at her friends. "You guys really didn't have to rearrange your—"

But she was soon cut off. "Are you kidding me?" said one of her girlfriends. "We've been waiting forever for you guys to finally get over yourselves and get together."

"Oh," said Kat, pink-cheeked, "in that case..." She shrugged her shoulders awkwardly, and allowed her hair to fall in her face as she generally did when she was embarrassed by something. Josh noticed this and tousled her hair playfully, effectively lightening the mood. Several of their friends raised their brows upon noticing the further reddening of Kat's cheeks, as opposed to the usual smack against Josh's head. Oh yes. This would definitely take some getting used to. But luckily, most of their friends were up for the task.

Later that afternoon, Kat was sitting outside the locker room after her track practice. She was finally back into her old routine, and although she felt utterly exhausted and out of shape, she also felt like her life had thankfully veered back on track. However, Josh was giving her a ride home from school that afternoon and she, unfortunately, had to wait forty-five minutes before he was due to finish up with his baseball practice. Her older brother, Matt, would have happily given her a ride (okay, maybe not so happily) if it weren't for her track practice ending so late. But honestly, Kat didn't mind. The wait provided her a perfect time to continue in her re-reading of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. However, during a particular scene including James Potter, Severus Snape, and a filthy pair of underwear, Kat was suddenly reminded of Snape's modern counterpart: Norm.

In the time that had passed since the incident, Kat had been so swept up in the happenings of her own life that she had barely thought of the happenings before the kidnapping. Norm had been there when it happened…and if she remembered correctly, he had known that something bad was coming. She quickly shut her book and leaned her head against the wall behind her, struggling to remember. Her eyes shut tightly as she struggled to recreate the scene of that night…she and Josh had been in the basement, had been about to…when there was a knock on the half-window…and then there was Norm… The next thing Kat remembers, they were lugging him inside…and he was a bloody heap, half-conscious. He…he had said that something, no…that someone was coming…and then he had said he was sorry before he had simply passed out.

But what happened to Norm after that? He definitely wasn't kidnapped, and he couldn't have just stayed in her kitchen. Her mother would have mentioned it… And why had he even apologized? What did he have to do with their kidnapper?

At the thought of that night Kat shuddered involuntarily. She then began to think about what happened to Peter Bryson, her kidnapper…She had gone to see him at the hospital, when he was still in critical condition after his gunshot wound. It was a few weeks ago, but the details were still fresh... unfortunately.

It was a Monday, close to the time when visiting hours were just about over. She had stopped by that afternoon to see her father. But something kept nagging her during the entire visit that left her distracted and unsettled. Her father pretended not to notice, but she could tell by the concern in his eyes that he knew something was up. She tried to give smiles, but they all felt empty. "Go," her conscience kept telling her. "Just go." But she didn't want to go. She wanted to stay with her father…but the longer she stayed where she was, the more agitated she became, until finally, her father grabbed her hand and asked her what was bothering her. She had turned her head to avoid his gaze. Her daddy always knew what she was thinking. And even without meeting her eye, he knew.

"Honey," he'd said, "you should go." Ever ambiguous, Kat's father relinquished his grip and turned his head, shutting his eyes in false slumber. Those words could have meant anything, and for a short while, Kat tried to convince herself that he simply was tired and wanted her to head back home. Visiting hours were almost over, after all. But she knew that wasn't really what he had been trying to say. As she stood from the bedside chair, she gave in.

After bending over to kiss her dad's slightly damp forehead, she whispered in his ear. "Okay." The aforementioned ear wiggled, and Kat shook her head. Her dad was terrible at faking sleep. "Bye daddy," she half sang as she exited the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.

She then wandered the hallways, checking her watch every few seconds to see how much longer visiting hours would last. She was sure that if she dawdled about long enough, time would run out and she would be spared. But then she was struck with a stab of guilt, thinking of how unfair it would be to her father, who would receive a distracted daughter every time she came to visit him.

Resigned, she allowed her feet to guide her to the IC unit, where he was bound to be. It didn't take long to find his room. For, it was the only one being guarded by half-asleep officers. Kat couldn't help but find the humor in the situation. Honestly, it wasn't as if Peter Bryson was gonna hop up out of his bed and hightail it out of there. The humor didn't last long when she realized she would have to get past these men to see Bryson. But as she got closer, she noticed that the guards were a bit more than half-asleep. She'd heard the slight utterances of quiet snores.

She held her breath as she tiptoed past the guards, entering the room only to be met with the foul odor of excessive hospital sanitation. Again, Kat was struck by the morphing powers of hospitals. The man in the bed was not the same man who had kidnapped her. Well, of course it was, but… he seemed so much less intimidating in confinement. He looked like he'd lost weight in the short time that he'd been there, and he just…lacked that aura of cynical exuberance that defined what she knew of his character. Kat stood near the doorway for quite some time and just stared. That is, until he began to stir. At that point, Kat had the urge to hightail it, herself…but her feet stuck.

"Who's there?" he muttered as he rubbed his fists against his eyes to clear his vision. Kat said nothing. He let out one of his signature rattling coughs. Kat shivered, and with that movement, she was spotted. "Oh. It's you." His voice lacked the ferocity that Kat had known it to hold. More than anything he sounded defeated.

The room remained silent, save for the constant bleeping of the heart monitor, as Kat held her words.

"Well," the man said, "What do you want?" He was beginning to sound irritated.

Kat's shoulders tensed and she took a step backwards, seeing a hint of danger in Bryson's eyes. But just as quickly the fire burned out.

"Wait," his voice sounded slightly panicked. "Don't leave—yet." He was perspiring, and it seemed as if it was taking much effort to speak. His breathing was coming in short rasps, and, despite former events, Kat began to worry about his health.

"Maybe I should get a nurse," Kat finally said, concern overcoming fear.

"No," said Bryson, struggling to move himself into an upright position. "I have something I want to say."

Kat became quiet, waiting for Peter Bryson's next words.

"I'm—"

"Ma'am, we're going to have to ask you to leave," said a voice from behind her. Suddenly, Kat felt a firm grip on her arm as she was yanked forcefully out of the room. She turned her head around as the now-awake guard pulled her away. Her eyes met her kidnapper's, and she was touched to see regret in them…

He'd died two days later. His body couldn't recover from the infection in his stomach wound.

Kat had cried.

She knew she should have been relieved, but in her heart she felt that she'd already forgiven him. Somehow, she just knew that he'd been about to apologize. So she forgave him because of the apology he never had the chance to complete.

Kat was brought back to the present when she sensed someone next to her. It took her a few seconds to realize that she was still seated on the floor outside of the locker room. And from the arm around her shoulder, she could tell that that someone was Josh. "Hey," she said, turning her head to peck his lips, but she stopped and wrinkled her nose. "You smell like grass."

Josh smirked, "So do you." He bent his head down and captured her lips. Kat allowed herself to become absorbed in the moment until she suddenly remembered that there was some unfinished business concerning Norm. Reluctantly, she pulled away.

"Josh," she asked.

"Hmm?"

"What ever happened to Norm? I mean from what I remember from the conversation that night, it sounded like he's your cousin, right?"

Josh's eyes darkened. "Yeah," he said shortly.

Kat didn't read the warning signs, or if she did, she chose to ignore them. "Well, I was just thinking about that night…when everything happened. And I remembered that he was there." Kat tried her best to sound casual, but the topic was too serious for her to pull it off believably. "And I remembered he was all apologetic and stuff, and I was just wondering if you knew why?" She turned to Josh to find him staring determinedly straight ahead. "I mean, from what I could tell, it seemed like he knew that Peter Bryson was coming, almost as if he was somehow invol—"

"Jeez Kat!" Josh exclaimed, and Kat knew she had gone too far. Thinking back over the words she'd just said, she realized just how offensive they were. She opened her mouth to apologize for her bluntness, but Josh had already stood up and was retreating briskly down the hall.

"Wait!" she cried, but Josh didn't. He angrily threw up his pointer finger, telling Kat to stay where she was as he continued away from her. He didn't stop until he reached the end of the hallway, where he threw his balled fists to his sides and seemingly took several deep breaths. A moment later, a composed Josh turned back towards Kat and motioned for her to follow him. Kat warily grabbed her track bag and followed his earlier path down the hallway. Once she reached him, he took her hand, and they stiffly exited the building and headed towards Josh's car in the parking lot.

The ride to Kat's home was silent, and their goodbye was nothing but mechanical. The entire time, Kat was internally chiding herself for being an insensitive snoop. As soon as she entered the house, she raced up to her computer desk and began writing Josh a profuse apology for having been, in her words, "such an insensitive witch." She explained how she hadn't meant for her words to come out that way, and how she didn't really need to know what had happened to Norm, because it wasn't really her business at all. The letter was a rambling mess, but Kat e-mailed it to him anyway, feeling that a messy apology was better than none at all.

It seemed that as soon as she had clicked on the mouse to send the e-mail, she received one of her own. It was from Josh, of course:

Hey Kat. I'm writing you an e-mail so that I can be sure I won't wig out on you again. I can at least control myself in writing.

Sorry about earlier. I know you didn't mean anything by what you said…and I know that it was just your curiosity gettin' the better of you, but c'mon! You were insinuating that my cousin is some sort of criminal!

I mean, I know that you probably were just putting two and two together, but it doesn't always have to equal four! …well, figuratively speaking, that is. But don't worry! I promise you I'm not really mad anymore.

So, you wanted to know what was up with my cousin that night. You know that he works at Dino's right? Well, it so happened that the night we were kidnapped, Norm had gone out back to take the trash to the dumpster. Bryson was out there, and he asked if Norm knew of us. Norm, of course, said yes…and then Bryson went all psycho on him, beating him up and shit until he gave out some info… including our home addresses. That explains why he was so bloodied up when we found him outside the basement window that night, in case you were wondering.

Now, you gotta understand that my cousin and I are pretty close, and he knew about what happened in the freezer, and how it was more than just an accident. After Bryson left Dino's, Norm began to think about things and he realized just who that man was. He rushed to your place to warn you that you were in danger (you lived closest) and I think you know the rest from there…

You might be wondering why he was acting the way he was, and you're probably wondering why he kept apologizing. If anything, he was apologizing for being too weak to withhold our addresses from Bryson… I know Norm. And he wouldn't do anything intentional to put someone else in danger.

I've heard from others that he seems creepy, but really. He's a nice guy. Trust me. He's still beating himself up over that night. I'm just glad that we're both alright, for his sake.

And the police already know that he was there that night. Luckily, they didn't want to bring him into any of this crap, since he's innocent and all. It's already crap enough for you and me. Plus, what's the point? Bryson's dead.

And I'm sure you're now worrying after Norm's wellbeing. Don't worry. He's fine

In any case, I hope this clears things up.

Don't worry. I'm not mad anymore… I promise.

And sorry for being an ass again.

Love,

Josh

Author's Note: Hey guys ((shrinks back in guilt)). I'm back ((insert nervous laugh)). I know, I have to be the worst updater in the world. I let school and track get the better of me… and then I let the laziness of the first two weeks of summer vacation get the better of me… But now I'm back, well rested, and ready to write! So, I hope there wasn't too much confusion in coming back to this story. I know how time tends to make the memory go a little fuzzy… I'm SO sorry!

This chapter was meant to tie up some loose ends. Now you know what happened to their kidnapper and to Norm. AT LAST

Well, I hope that (despite your obvious anger at my lack of updates) you were able to enjoy the chapter. And I hope it wasn't too confusing for you guys. And I'm gonna update soon! And please, tell me what you think!

Thanks so much to all of you reviewers! You rock my world!

'Danni'