The outliers, p.11
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       The Outliers, p.11

         Part #2 of The Outskirts Duet series by T. M. Frazier
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  Finn and I hadn’t left the hospital in over two days. We slept upright, propped up against each other in chairs. We held each other out not just physically but emotionally. We were beyond tired and I could tell the stress was weighing on him just as much as it was weighing on me. He loved Critter like a father and I loved Critter before even if he was my father.

  I found myself mentally chanting please wake up please make up please wake up. Every time the machine beeped, my hopes would soar, thinking that it was a sign he was waking up.

  And every time my hopes were dashed when he didn’t.

  “No matter what we’re going to get through this together,” Finn said. I loved how he was trying to comfort me when he was feeling the same despair I was. “Do you want to go get something to eat? It’s been awhile since you’ve had anything.”

  I shook my head. “No. I’m just going to stay right here. With him.” I brought my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs.

  “You know, staring at him like a line in the water, waiting for something happen isn’t going to make him get better any faster,” Finn said, trying to coax a smile from me.

  I kept my eyes on Critter. “I just want him to wake up.”

  “You heard the doctor. He’s got a fighting shot. He strong. He’ll make it through. I know he will,” Finn said and either he was a really good actor or he truly believed what he was saying.

  “How can you be so sure?” I asked, feeling my eyes grow heavier and heavier. Feeling the lump in my throat and heart swell with each passing second.

  Finn slid out of his chair and knelt before me. “Remember when we had a conversation about faith? I believe you told me that the dictionary defined it as ‘the belief in something based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

  I nodded. Although killed me to tear my eyes away from Critter’s resting body for even a moment, I knew I wanted to look down at Finn. I didn’t need to just hear what he was trying to tell me. I needed to FEEL it.

  He gathered my hands in his. “That’s why I am sure he’s going to pull through. I don’t believe in much. But I have faith in him. That man has waited a long time to be with his family. Trust me. He ain’t leaving you now.”

  “He always was a stubborn ox.”

  Finn and I both looked to the door where my mother was being wheeled in by Maddy. “Mo…Hi,” I corrected. There was a clarity about her but I wanted to veer on the side of caution so I stop myself from calling her mom.

  Maddy wheeled her up to Critters bed then stepped out of the room, standing guard by the door.

  With tears in her eyes my mother held out her hand to me. “Come here, baby. Come sit with your mother for a while.”

  I hadn’t ever heard my mother sound that strong, that clear.

  Was this temporary? Was she back? My thoughts, stomach, and mind tumbled together wreaking havoc on my heartbeat.

  For a moment, I just stood there. Staring. Gawking. It was like she wasn’t even the same woman. My mother wiggled her outstretched fingers. “I’ve got you now. I promise.”

  It was those words that broke whatever barrier was still holding me back from my mother. I felt an immediate rush of overwhelming elation. Of peace. The invisible chain of our mother daughter bond was being repaired link with every step I took toward her. I could feel it in my bones.

  In my heart.

  Finn stepped aside so I could kneel next to my mother, but that wasn’t close enough for her. She reached over and tugged on my arm. “Come here,” she said, pulling me down onto her lap. She lifted my feet over the edge of her wheelchair and cradled me like a baby. I lost it. Sobbing into my mother’s white blouse as she brushed the hair back from my forehead. I sobbed out my job. My frustration. My confusion. My love. She whispered to me how much she loved me as I gave her all the tears I’d been holding back my entire life.

  After I’d settled down I stayed there on my mother’s lap and together we watched Critter’s chest rise and fall with the help of the machines.

  “I’ll let you two have some time alone,” Finn said, excusing himself.

  My mother stopped him before he could get to the door. “Are you the young man my daughter is so desperately in love with?” The question made my insides smile. It was the same way I felt visiting Finn’s parents. Like, this was the way things should’ve been all along. With just a few words my mother was telling me she was not just my mother again, but the mother she’d always wanted to be.

  I felt stronger because of her. I wanted to BE stronger because of her.

  Finn smiled. He appeared completely unaffected by her comment while even my insides were blushing.

  “Yes, ma’am. That would be me.” Finn said. “It’s nice to officially meet you, ma’am. Although, I guess we’ve met before. It’s been a lot of years.”

  My mother nodded. “It has been a lot of years. You’ve grown a bit since the last time I’ve saw you,” my mother teased, but her voice remained sad and heavy.

  “Just a little, I suppose.”

  I crawled off my mother and took a chair next to her. She linked her hand with mine like she’d done it a million times. I looked down at where our hands were connected and I still couldn’t believe it was all real. “You used to steal her sunflowers,” I said to Finn, recalling what my mother had told me during our first conversation.

  “He sure did,” she confirmed.

  “I guess all of my secrets are out now,” Finn said, rocking back on his heels.

  “Critter is very happy that you and Sawyer found each other,” my mother said, looking between Finn and Critter.

  He was?

  Finn’s smile was a sad one. “That’s nice to hear. The last conversation we had about me and Sawyer ended with him telling me that he was gonna…well, we don’t need to get into it here let’s just say it ends with me in parts.”

  “He threatened you?” I asked, both shocked and secretly elated that Critter was so protective over me when he’d known Finn his entire life and had only met me a few months before.

  “Of course,” Finn said, leaning against the wall. “That’s what good fathers do to protect their daughters. I’d expect nothing less than the threat of an ass-kicking every other week at the very least.”

  My mother looked over to Critter. “He’ll live to threaten another day. Because just like you, Finn, I have faith that he is going to pull through. I can feel it.” She placed her hand over her chest.

  Finn excused himself again to the cafeteria where he told me he was going to get me some food whether I liked it or not.

  “Two-decades and this still isn’t over yet,” my mother sighed. “But it needs to be over. It needs to end now.” There was a determination in her eyes when she said out loud the thoughts I’d been thinking all along.

  My mother continued and I found myself nodding along to everything she was saying. I grew angrier and angrier with each sentence she spoke. “After all these years one man has still found a way to terrorize this family, despite all he’s already put us through. It’s still not enough. Keeping me against my will wasn’t enough. Threatening my family wasn’t good enough. Poisoning my husband…” she paused and composed herself. “It’s the final straw. I’m tired of standing by and doing nothing. He’s not going to stop. It will never be enough.” Her voice trailed off. “It will never be enough until we’re all dead.”

  “And yet there doesn’t seem to be a single thing we can do about it.” I said, my frustrations bubbling up to the surface all over again.

  “Or maybe, there is,” she whispered, the corner of her lip turning upward in a half smile. She took a deep breath and suddenly stood up from her wheelchair. I leapt up, half-expecting to have to catch her if she fell. But she didn’t fall. She straightened her shoulders and walked over to Critter’s beside like a queen ready to take care of the kingdom while the King was temporarily unable. She lifted his hand into hers and kissed it before covering it with her other ha

  This was a woman whose will, who’s very being had been burnt to ashes and yet here she was, ready to fight for her family. The determination radiating off her was almost tangible. I felt proud. I felt my own resolve to fight build from within me all over again.

  For the first time in a long time I had a feeling that everything was okay. I guess you could even say that I had faith. And just maybe it was because of that faith that a deep voice bellowed from the bed behind me.

  “What in the hell is all the fuss about?”

  Chapter 17


  I came into the room to find Critter awake and alert. He looked between Caroline and Sawyer then back again. He smiled, his moustache turning upward.

  “Now I told you not to make a fuss,” he groaned, adjusting his position on the bed, trying to sit up higher.

  Sawyer leaned down and wrapped her arms around Critter. Her shoulders shook with her joy, making my own heart skip a few beats and the tears pick the back of my eyes.

  I may have grown up surrounded by these people, but to find out that Sawyer was related to Critter was probably the best news I’d ever heard, despite his threats toward me.

  Because now it wasn’t just my family. It was OUR family.

  “Hey mama. Hey kiddo,” Critter, wrapping one arm around Sawyer and the other Caroline.

  “It’s so beautiful, man.”

  I looked over to Miller who was sobbing at the sight. Tears streaming down his face. Strings of saliva connecting his teeth.

  I laughed because I couldn’t NOT laugh.

  Josh rolled her eyes and dragged Miller from the room. “Let’s let them have some time. You can come talk to him later,” she told him.

  “You promise?” Miller squeaked as Josh lead him from the room with a wave over her shoulder.

  The doctor showed up just as they left. The same one who saw Critter on the first day he was brought in by ambulance. “How are you feeling?” she asked Critter, checking numbers on a machine above his head.

  Critter winced as Caroline adjusted his pillow. He continued to wince until he was settled back against them again.

  “How am I feeling?” Critter repeated, his bushy eyebrows reaching into his forehead. “Like I’m in a god damned hospital. But I’m alive. So, there’s that.”

  “You are,” Caroline said. “You’re here.”

  “And so are you, baby.”

  The looks they were exchanging were so full of love I thought immediately of my father’s words. Critter and Caroline had that forever factor he spoke about. I looked to Sawyer and I could see our future together. Our lives spent here in Outskirts. If I hadn’t known it before I knew it then. Sawyer was always meant to be my forever. And I was always meant to be hers.

  “I never thought I’d talk to you again,” Sawyer admitted. “When they were carting you away…” she paused.

  “Sorry I scared you,” Critter said. “I won’t do it again. I promise.”

  The doctor started to ramble off something using words like toxicity, ingesting, countermeasures, and just in time. She finished with, “You’re lucky to be alive.”

  “Thanks, Doc,” Critter said. “But what the hell happened? Should I worry about it happening again?”

  We all stiffened. All of us of course except for the doctor who simply shrugged and kept her eyes trained on her clipboard. “Not unless you plan on being poisoned again any time soon.”

  The room was dead silent as Critter’s eyes slowly widened. His fists curled up into balls on the bed. The only noise in that room was the echo of the doctor’s heels as she marched down the hall.

  And the sound of Critter’s blood boiling.

  Chapter 18


  It had been a few weeks since Critter was released from the hospital. Since then Josh was working with my mother and Critter to make their case against Richard. They didn’t involve me. They said it was best if I knew as little as possible about what they were up to.

  Finn still wanted to skip town. I still wanted to stay and be close to my family, and I still had to make sure someone was with me at all times as a safety measure.

  At least Critter was home now. And with him and my mother getting better every day (she hadn’t slipped back to thinking it was two decades ago at all since the hospital) I felt relieved. But there was something else nagging me. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

  After all the events of the last few months, I felt utterly run down.

  I pulled out a chair from one of the tables and sat down, propping my feet up on another. Since Critter was out spending time with my mother, Josh had volunteered to put in some hours after her police shift. As did Finn who was in the back cleaning dishes and Miller, who was out back taking a delivery.

  Speaking of which, the delivery man who’d delivered the whiskey they believed poisoned Critter disappeared with his family and hadn’t been seen since that morning.


  “Why does it take four of us to do the job of one man?” I asked Josh who was refilling napkin dispensers.

  "I knew that man was a machine but damn. He really does do it all.”

  I tried to laugh but I was too tired to conjure up the energy.

  “You don’t seem like yourself lately. Is it your mother? Critter?” Josh asked. Her gold bangled bracelets clanked as she reached over and set her hand on top of mine. Her smile was genuine but sad. Lines of concern were etched all over her usually smooth and perfect face.

  I shook my head just as another wave of nausea washed over me. Churning my stomach, threatening to force out everything I’d eaten that morning. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths until, thankfully, the threat subsided.

  I waited a few beats to make sure the feeling was completely gone before I spoke. “No, it’s not my mother or Critter. I just haven’t been feeling great. I think I ate something bad.”

  "Again? There’s no way someone eats something bad that often." Josh rounded the table and pulled up a chair next to mine. “Like HOW have you not been feeling great?” She asked, scooting her chair closer until her knees were against my thigh.

  “It's nothing,” I said, waving her off. “I’m just a little lightheaded.” Just thinking about throwing up made me woozy. “but I haven’t thrown up,” I added, like that would make all the difference in my diagnosis.

  “That’s not specific enough, Say.” Josh leaned back and placed her feet on the same chair as mine. “What else have you been feeling?” she asked with a casual shrug, looking down at her nails. “Don’t leave anything out.”

  I took a moment to think. “Uh…there are some other things,” I said quietly.

  “What kind of other things?” Josh asked ten times as loud as if her yelling would make me speak up.

  I looked around to make sure Miller and Finn weren’t around. “Things…things I don’t feel comfortable talking about.”

  Josh nodded like she understood and pulled her feet from the chair, leaning in closer. “What if I list some common symptoms of some things and you just nod or shake your head?” she asked. “Would that be easier?”

  “I can do that,” I said, feeling a lot more comfortable with her idea.

  “Are you…sore anywhere?” She asked, refilling the napkin dispenser at the table we were sitting at.

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