Rose Red

Chapter 22

Two weeks later, Harrison came to the jail to have a word with his brother. He sat at a little desk that had nothing on it but a monitor and a camera pointed at his face. After a couple of minutes Armand's face came up on the monitor.

Armand's hair looked less slick and his face was horribly lined compared to the teenager Harrison remembered. His prison uniform was a grey wife-beater with blue jeans. The only thing that made it look less like what Harrison wore when he played grease monkey was the bracelet around his brother's wrist. Harrison did a double take when he saw Armand casually throw his hand on the table in front of him. It looked so much like Paige's, except it wasn't pink.

"How goes it?" Armand asked, grimly reefing on his cigarette.

"Like you care," Harrison snorted. "It's fine by me if you don't. How's prison?"

Armand picked something out of his eye. "You might be surprised to hear it, but it's a Hell of a lot better than working for Zaphier."

"I believe that," Harrison readily agreed. A moment passed and Armand didn't elaborate, so Harrison asked him, "Does that mean that you wanted me to catch you?"

Armand shrugged his bare shoulders. "I dunno. I'm tired."

"What do they think the sentence will be?"

"I don't know that either. I've seen the list of charges. It's not so bad. I notice you didn't report any of my crimes towards Paige. No charges for wiping her memory. Care to explain that?"

Harrison rolled his eyes slowly and thought. "Of course, I can still report it."

"Really?" Armand narrowed his eyes and sucked on the end of his cigarette. "Why don't you?"

"I want to ask you something first. Was I right about that box breaking? Is that why our mother got infected?"

Harrison felt like he had to wait forever before Armand finally said something. "Sort of," he said dreadfully. "A box did fall at her feet during a fight, but I didn't know it had broken. Dad told me afterwards he found a crack it in, and then he told me she was diagnosed." Harrison could tell without him saying it. He hated himself.

Harrison couldn't find the words to say that what happened didn't matter anymore. He felt like it did matter. The whole incident sounded so senseless and careless that it made Harrison twitchy. If he wanted to be a rat, he could chalk it up to manslaughter and get the police to charge Armand for the death of their mother too. Harrison swallowed the disgust welled up in his throat and said, "Thanks for not letting Zaphier murder Paige. I owe you one. Do you know if he's going to be charged for that?"

"I have no clue, but Harrison, don't be surprised if he somehow manages to get off scot-free. Elizabella and her family might even help him."

"Those little…" He left the thought unanswered and took a deep breath. "I don't understand royalty."

"You don't have to."

A couple more minutes passed in unequalled silence. Harrison was quite uncomfortable, but it was obvious Armand was even more so. Harrison tried to fill it with talking about what had happened to him since their standoff.

"You know, I haven't been able to go home since we handed you over to the police. The house and hanger have been sealed off for M.T.N. testing. So far no one has been diagnosed, but we had to trace every single person who stayed there overnight this summer and have them tested. I don't know if my business will ever rise again, we've had so much press. I've been thinking that it might be time to think of a new career, but I can't think of anything other than piloting a chopper. It's all I know how to do."

Armand gave him a look. The look said he didn't want to hear about what Harrison planned to do with the rest of his life. Armand's future was like a ripcord behind him.

Harrison tried to fix it by talking about something else. "And it turns out that all the cows in our neighborhood have M.T.N. They just have high enough doses of Ql in their system to keep the virus in check. It's pretty amazing. Once they started testing the animals more seriously, they found out the disease can only spread to a human through the circulatory system – not through spit. Paige helped a sick cow on the road that had a bloody cut on its leg. Apparently, she cleaned her hands properly, because she didn't get it. Lucky girl, huh? And they found out that Elizabella got it from eating raw steaks – you know with the blood oozing out onto the plate."

After the older brother had taken all he could take, he smiled wanly and said, "I know all this. Are you done talking?"

Harrison shook his head.

"Anything you want to say, you'd better say it now."


The older brother threw his cigarette away. "Because, after today, I never want to see your face again. Looking at you makes me sick. Are you done?"

Harrison nodded, but he desperately wanted to tell his brother one last thing. Armand got up from his chair and the moment was slipping, and at the last moment, Harrison figured out what he wanted to say. "I'll forgive you."

"You'll forgive me?" Armand snorted.

"Yeah. Some day."

"Great," Armand said sarcastically over his shoulder, but just at the last moment, Harrison could have sworn he saw Armand wipe something out of his eye. "Thanks for not doing it today."

Paige was lying on a bed in a hotel room. She and Harrison had been staying in a hotel since the police came in and took over the bed and breakfast. They had separate rooms, and nothing to do all day, but hang out with each other. Right then, she was waiting for him to get back. Where he went, she didn't know, but she had a feeling of great anticipation. He had something planned. As far as she knew, he'd already finished tying up all the loose ends he could manage.

Osric was in charge of the M.T.N. research and even though he hardly looked through a microscope, he was enjoying the whole thing immensely. Paige got a message from him saying that his contract with Angelina had been replaced with one far more lenient. In short, no more electric shocks – twenty times more money. Apparently, that girl hired ten private detectives to help her solve her sister's case and the only one who came through was Osric. The rest of them were now up for sale at Sleeping Beauty Inc. But, good news for M.T.N. sufferers. Now the scientists only needed to figure out how much Ql to inject into a person's blood stream and BOOM – the disease would be stopped in its tracks. However, they could only balance the disease, not cure it, so there were consequences. In other words there was no helping the pee colored saliva – bummer.

Thinking about all that brought Paige's brain to the subject of Zaphier. No one had to tell her what was going on. She didn't need inside information. It was all on T.V. and a couple weeks hanging out in a hotel room allowed for plenty of unbridled celebrity gossip. Once Elizabella found out that Zaphier was not responsible for her M.T.N. infection – she took him back – forgave him everything – wrote him back into her will – and helped him cover his past indiscretions so that he only had to pay fines for his crimes. And the incident about pushing Paige off a cliff was not included in the news feeds. Bastards! Paige's righteous indignation burned like Hellfire, but she couldn't do anything about it, so she turned off the T.V.

Two minutes later, Harrison's swift knock came at the door and shortly after, his body came in the room.

Paige kissed him instead of saying hello and made room for him on the bed since there was nowhere else in the room to sit down.

He touched her bare wrist. "We're going to have to do something about that."

"Why?" Paige balked. "I'm not going to run away and things are much more comfortable with it off."

"I know, but according to enslavement regulations, you have to wear a wristband to verify your identity, owner, and location. I don't make up the rules. Since we're in the city anyway, let's go get it fixed."

Paige got off the bed and slipped on her shoes.

"Are we going like that?" Harrison asked, looking her over.

"Is there something wrong with the way I look? This is how I always look. I thought you liked me just fine the way I am."

"I do. It's just that where we're going, you might want to dress up just a little bit."

Paige glared at him evilly.

Harrison laughed. "It's not for me. I'm thinking only of you."

Actually, Paige had been on the verge of complying before he laughed. Now she wasn't going to change no matter what he said. "I thought you thought I was pretty with paint smeared across my cheek and nothing could damage my looks?"

"You're especially pretty with paint smeared across your cheek," he said, right before he laid a peck on her cheek. "And you look pretty with paint on your nose." He planted a kiss on her nose. "And on your forehead." He kissed her there too. "And on your neck."

She pushed him off. "That tickles!"

He fought her and pulled her into a hug. "Okay, you can come how you are, but really, you might be mad at me later for not insisting."

"No. I don't want to go back to Sleeping Beauty Inc. lacquered up like a whore. I want to go looking like a work horse. What do you think?" she asked brandishing her blue jeans and grey T-shirt.

Harrison did a double take. "You know, that's almost exactly what Armand's prison uniform looks like."

"What?" Paige started. He could say anything – except that.

"I'm not joking. He was wearing a wife-beater and his jeans weren't capris, but really – that's what he was wearing."

"I gotta change."

Harrison caught her hand. "Actually, maybe it's better that you don't. I'll take you shopping afterwards and let you buy anything you want."

"Anything? Are you crazy? Where would we get the money? Are you planning to take me for a shopping spree on credit?"

"No. I recently received a refund."

Paige didn't think to ask what he was refunded for. She only asked, "How much?"

"Plenty. Enough to take you shopping. Enough to finish the tower. Enough to redo my room. Even enough to add another wing onto the house if you want. So, how about it?" he asked, leading her out of the room.

Paige went with him. Was he always this nice?

They held hands as they went out of the hotel and got into a taxi. Once inside, Harrison said, "The courthouse please."

The driver changed lanes and got into the flow of traffic.

"The courthouse? I thought we were going to Sleeping Beauty Inc.?"

"Nah. They terminated their contract with me to get Zaphier off their back, but that doesn't mean you're a free women. Well, actually, I guess it does. It means you were a free woman – for me."

"So, that's where you got the money. They refunded the money you paid for me?"

Harrison nodded. "Gallant of them, wasn't it? A little inconsiderate of them though, since we can't go back to them about your arm band."

"Whatever. What's so special about the courthouse that I had to dress up? I'm sure that place is even less dressy than Sleeping Beauty Inc."

Harrison shrugged his shoulders. "Don't be so sure."

The taxi let them off out front and Paige and Harrison walked in the mirror faced front doors. They came onto the polished marble floor, Paige took one look around and clutched Harrison's arm. The place was vibrating with the sounds of high heels on stone. It wasn't just female lawyers crossing the lobby, but brides; their trains billowing like there was wind. There were men too – scads of them – and they were all in pristine suits or black tuxedos.

Harrison was wearing dark blue jeans and a sweater. He looked better than her. She felt like a gooseberry in a berry patch full of blackberries.

But Harrison didn't seem startled and instead crossed over to the reception desk. He said his name and mentioned the appointment he'd made.

"Yes," the woman said through the tiny holes in the glass. Then, glancing at the monitor built into the desk in front of her, she said, "You're a couple minutes late, Mr. Fox. They're waiting for you in meeting room C. I'll send them a message to let them know that you're coming now."

"Thanks," Harrison said,

Together, they crossed the lobby and ducked down a quieter hallway and down about seven steps before stopping in front of meeting room C. Just before they went in, Harrison stopped and kissed her hand. "I love you."

Then before she could answer, he threw open the door and hauled her in so fast she almost lost her balance.

Inside, there were three men in suits sitting on one side of a boardroom table. In front of every single chair there was a monitor built into the table. Harrison pulled out a chair for her and let her sit down.

"Good to see you again, Mr. Fox," the man in the middle said, rising to shake Harrison's hand. Then he turned to Paige and shook hers too. "I'm Arron Billington. This is Graham Walters, and this is Michael Frost. We're very pleased with your decision, Mr. Fox. An occasion like this doesn't happen every day."

"Purchased women don't get their bracelets replaced every day?" Paige asked – completely confused.

Arron shot a puzzled look at Harrison.

Harrison shrugged his shoulders and sat down with a smile.

"I'm afraid there has been some mistake. We're not here to replace your arm band. Mr. Fox has signed the approval forms to have you released. You're now a free woman."

Paige stared at Harrison. He set her free? Paige's brain didn't even know how to compute that. "What does this mean?" she asked, looking directly into Harrison's eyes and forgetting there were other people in the room.

"It means that I want you to marry me, but I don't want you to be a prisoner. You can decide. If what you really want is to leave and try out life on your own again, I'll give you the money to start again. But … I still want you to marry me. Will you?"

Paige had already been through this in her own head. She knew what she wanted. "Of course I'll marry you."

"Wonderful!" Arron said on the other side of the table. "We have those forms ready too. But if you'll just sign these forms first, we can bring up the marriage certificate ones right away."

Paige didn't even realize she was holding Harrison's forearms so tightly within her hands that she was putting lines in his sweater. "Okay," she said as she let go of him. She took the pen within her sweaty fingertips and wrote her name in a neat diagonal line across the screen.

"Mr. Fox has already signed those, so we can move right onto the marriage certificate. Do you have vows prepared?"

Paige stared. "Uh, I didn't know I was getting married today, so I don't have any."

"I do," Harrison said. Paige expected him to pull a piece of paper out of his pocket or have Arron read them out for Harrison to repeat, but Harrison didn't do either of those things. Instead, he looked straight into her eyes and said without reservation. "I swear that I'll do everything in my power to make you happy. I'll listen to you and protect you and care for you. You will be the only one for me and I will love you forever."

Paige had to squeak to stop her lip from shriveling up. "I don't have anything ready."

Harrison kissed her on the temple. He whispered. "It's okay. The standard one will do. I have to repeat the standard one anyway."

Paige nodded. "Okay."

Paige's vow was told to her out loud by Ammon and she repeated it as follows. "I, Paige, take you, Harrison, to be my lawfully wedded husband, my constant friend, my faithful partner, and my love from this day forward."

Harrison said his. "I, Harrison, take you, Paige, to be my lawfully wedded wife, my constant friend, my faithful partner, and my love from this day forward."

Some other things were said as Paige crushed her hands into Harrison's in her lap, but the end of the talking came with, "You may now kiss the bride."

Harrison drew Paige into his arms and kissed her.

Weeks later, Harrison was wandering around the house when the doorbell rang. He padded over in his socks and answered it.

"Package for you," Wystan said with a grin.

"Are you delivering the mail now?" Harrison asked, moving aside to let Wystan in the house.

"Gotta take the work I can do, now that Narissa's expecting. The money has got to come in somehow."

Harrison took the box Wystan offered him and signed on the dotted line. "Congratulations. Wanna come in for some water or something?"

"Nope. Gotta get on to the next house. Later, Harrison."

Harrison chuckled and closed the door. That was one of the more miraculous developments in town … and in life in general. Narissa, pregnant? Sheesh.

Harrison opened the box and inside was another box, wrapped in pretty wedding-style wrapping paper. Who on Earth could be sending them a wedding present? Harrison opened the card. "To Harrison. May our years together be bright and … smooth. Love, Paige."

It was from Paige? What was she talking about? Smooth?

He ripped off the wrapping paper.

It was a power sander. This time it was blue.


Author's Notes: Thanks to everybody who has been following this story. Thanks for the reviews, signing up for alerts and favourites. I really appreciate that stuff. Anyway - make sure to sign up for author alerts as I'll be starting to release a new story next week. Thanks for everything.