Read the first 3 chapters of Saving Sarah – Melissa Storm
Melissa Storm
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Read the first 3 chapters of Saving Sarah

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Chapter One

Sarah let go of her patient’s hand and watched as it settled back on the rumpled hospital blanket. Just yesterday Mr. Hinkley had regaled her with stories of his youthful heroics, of his time spent serving their country in Korea, and of the big, loving family that came after.

For more than eighty years he’d lived life as best as he could figure out how… and now?

He’d died alone in a nursing home, attended only by a nurse and her faithful therapy dog.

Her Golden Retriever whined and nudged the old man’s hand one final time before looking to Sarah for guidance.

“Good job, Lucky,” she whispered to the dog while pulling herself slowly to her feet. Sometimes she cried when residents left them. Other days she just felt numb. Whatever the particular case, saying that final goodbye never got any easier.

Not for Sarah, and certainly not for Lucky.

“Let’s go for a walk,” she told the dog as they click-clacked down the hall.

Lucky wagged his tail weakly. They both needed the warm California sun on their faces to coax the life back into them. It was part of their routine—treat, comfort, move on. If they mourned too long, then they wouldn’t be on their best game for the other patients who needed them.

And so many needed them.

Each new person who passed through this facility offered Sarah a new life to try on, a new person to become. Outside of her work, her life had been rather unremarkable. She’d always done what was expected when it was expected. She’d gone to school, received straight A’s, stayed out of trouble, and treated others with as much kindness as she could muster. Sarah was a good person, but not the kind anyone would remember when she herself passed.

She’d been working at the Redwood Cove Rest Home for the past four years now, and more than three of them with Lucky at her side. Of course, Sarah hadn’t originally planned to turn her pet into a colleague, but now she couldn’t imagine herself getting through the day without the big yellow fur ball with her every step of the way.

When she’d first approached Carol Graves about adopting one of her famous Golden Retriever puppies, Sarah had only wanted a companion. Once she had secured a degree, a job, and a home, adding a dog to the mix seemed the natural next step. And because Sarah always did her best in all things, she naturally chose the most respected breeder in the entire state.

Carol Graves only bred one litter per year—and only Golden Retrievers. She’d devoted her life to the breed when one such dog had saved her from drowning as a little girl decades before Sarah had even been born.

Most of Carol’s dogs went on to work in service, rescue, or even entertainment. In fact, when Sarah had first met the wriggling litter of two-month-old pups, she’d been immediately drawn to a frisky little female who was later named Star. Star now served as a co-host for the local cable morning show. Both Sarah and Lucky enjoyed watching her each day as they ate their breakfast.

But while Sarah had been drawn to Star, Lucky only had eyes for Sarah. Of course, the erstwhile breeder insisted the two were meant to belong to each other—and that was that. Lucky actually came with his name, too. Carol had named him on the day after he was born. She hadn’t expected the tiny runt of the litter to survive the night, but he’d surprised her and earned his name in the process.

Lucky had grown into a big, strong adult. No one would ever have guessed he nearly died the same day he was born. Maybe it was that near brush that made him so good with the hospice patients now. He’d been where they were going. He understood and wanted to help.

Which he did. Sometimes Sarah felt as if Lucky was the real medical wonder and that she was merely his assistant.

The Golden Retriever had a knack for knowing which residents were nearing the end, and he made sure they were never without cuddles in their final days. Once they passed on, he switched his attention to Sarah, who felt each loss deeply, no matter how hard she tried to toughen up.

Each death meant losing a patient, a friend, and a life she had tried on while enjoying all the stories and memories—temporarily adopting them as her own.

It was easier that way. Easier than finding her own life and making sure she lived it perfectly.

Just as the breeder Carol Graves had chosen her profession to celebrate a life saved, Sarah Campbell became a hospice nurse to honor the life she’d failed to rescue.

It had been her job to keep her grandmother company that summer day, to help her with anything she needed, and to keep her safe. Sarah had only been fourteen then—far more interested in talking with the attractive twin guys next door than in hearing another of her grandma’s rambling stories for the millionth time.

Sarah’s selfishness had meant she wasn’t there when her grandmother needed help remembering whether she had taken her medication or not. In search of her wayward granddaughter, she’d slipped out of the house and down the front stairs. The ice-slicked steps led to a terrible fall she was just too weak to recover from.

Sarah still remembered the scream. It hadn’t been loud and earth-shattering like you’d imagine, but rather meek—a tiny bird letting out a small, shaky chirp as it fell from its nest and crashed to the ground below.

That was the end of one life for Sarah and the start of many others. Yet no matter how many she helped in their final days, she could never quite find a way to forgive herself for letting her grandmother down, for killing the old woman she’d love with her negligence. Even moving clear across the country, to a place where the winter months remained bright and sunny, hadn’t alleviated her guilt. The only relief she had was in doing her best, giving her full attention to those who were left.

Just as she and Lucky had done for poor Mr. Hinkley. They’d done everything by the book. And still… still, she couldn’t shake the enormous feeling of disappointment.

As she passed through the automatic doors and headed outside into the facility gardens, Sarah wondered if she would ever have great stories of her own to tell, if her life would ever become more than a vehicle for her heavy guilt, if a change was coming… and if she would welcome it when it arrived.

***

Finch Jameson had nothing left—no family, no job prospects, and not too much money, either.

Had it really only been five years since he’d been named one of the top thirty business tycoons under thirty?

Yes—five long years.

He’d made that list exactly one time before he bought into his own hype and ruined everything. Now, instead of being among the top thirty brightest young minds in the country, he’d become the number one failure, the poster boy for wasted potential.

Growing up, all he had wanted was to take beautiful pictures with his endless parade of yellow disposable cameras. He’d once aspired to be a nature photographer—to see his name in big bold letters plastered across National Geographic magazine. Once he hit his teen years, his passion shifted to fashion photography and all the gorgeous models such a career path would bring trotting through his bedroom.

Then, in his second year of college, a stroke of genius took hold of him and refused to let go. With a huge vision and an even more massive team of helpers, Finch brought his big idea to life.

Reel Life.

His fledgling social media network quickly overtook the flashing gifs of MySpace to become the go-to place for people to share their lives with the world. Reel Life Finch watched as MySpace Tom sold big and went on to enjoy a relatively anonymous and carefree life.

And he wanted that for himself.

He’d had his time in the spotlight and was ready to travel the world, taking pictures and enjoying every single moment of every day.

He eagerly agreed to sell Reel Life to the first person who asked.

As it turned out, he sold far too soon and for far too little. Seemingly overnight he went from “the one to watch” to the laughingstock of the free world. Luckily, neither of his parents had lived long enough to see his fall from grace. Still, Finch could have benefited from their love and support at the time when all the rest of his friends—and girlfriends—had abandoned him.

With nothing left, he abandoned LA to settle in the small coastal town of Redwood Cove. The money went fast, mostly due to a string of poor investments and bad advice.

“Why don’t you just come up with another idea?” everyone asked.

But Finch was fresh out of brilliant inventions. Reel Life had been the pinnacle, and now at thirty-one years old, his life was already on the decline. His blazing passion for photography dulled to the tiniest of sparks buried within a giant mountain of dying embers.

It was all just too painful, too much of a reminder of what he’d not only lost but willingly given away.

Somewhere in the midst of yet another day whittling away at the time between waking up and going back to sleep, a letter arrived.

Not an email, but an old-fashion letter scrawled carefully in large looping cursive.

Dear Finch, it read, I’m your great aunt Eleanor, and I’m dying. There’s something very important I need to tell you before I go. Please come see me at the Redwood Cove Rest Home. I pray this letter finds you well… and before it’s too late to set things right.

Regards,

Eleanor Barton

Finch read the letter three times over before folding it back up and slipping it into the torn envelope. A great aunt? No, that was impossible. His mother loved celebrating what little family they had. She wouldn’t have let them grow estranged from one of the few surviving relatives.

He’d never once heard of the Bartons. Why would this sickly old woman reach out to him? How could she have gotten her wires so badly crossed? Made such a huge mistake?

He had half a mind to crumple the letter and toss it in the trash. This clearly wasn’t his problem. But then again…

His imagination conjured a withered old waif of a woman staring forlornly out the window waiting for her lost nephew to return to her side. Could he really let her die thinking her attempt to mend fences had been met with cold refusal?

He didn’t owe this woman anything, but he also couldn’t live with yet another burden on his conscience. It was bad enough he’d tossed his own life in the crapper. The least he could do is help this sweet old lady find her family.

One good deed for the day, then he could return to his lackluster life.

 

Chapter Two

Sarah and Lucky arrived at their favorite local bakery about twenty minutes later. The day just needed something sweet to get itself back on track.

“Hi, Lucky boy! Hi, Sarah!” the shop owner, Grace, shouted cheerfully from her place behind the counter. She wore an apron patterned with tiny smiling blue whales on top of a deep purple background. It brought out the green flecks in her eyes. Sarah had always been envious of Grace’s obvious happiness. It shone through in everything she did, from ringing up purchases at the cash register to gossiping about the latest town news.

Sarah liked Grace but never accepted any of the woman’s attempts to make plans to see each other outside of Sweets and Treats. Grace’s constant cheerfulness made Sarah weary. Was there really so much to smile about each and every day?

Sarah forced a smile of her own. “Hi,” she said, swallowing down the beginnings of fresh tears. “I’ll have two of your big cinnamons—make one sugar-free—a cheese Danish, and a pistachio pup cake for Lucky, please.”

The corners of Grace’s mouth pinched into a delicate bow. “Uh-oh. I know that order. You lost another resident today.”

Sarah nodded. “Mr. Hinkley. In a better place now, thank God.” She never knew what to say in these situations. One would think she experienced them enough to know exactly how to talk about death, but no. All she had were the same simple platitudes as everyone else.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Grace said. “Order’s on me, of course.”

“You don’t have to do—”

“I insist.” Grace reached forward and squeezed Sarah’s hand, giving her a long, lingering gaze. It’s okay to talk to me, she seemed to be saying. It’s okay to be vulnerable, to let others in.

But Sarah preferred to spend days like this in her own head rather than rehashing details with others. Of course she was sad. Of course none of this was easy. How would it help admitting that aloud?

Instead, she remained silent and watched as Grace packed her order in the bakery’s signature pink boxes. The giant donuts would make the rest of the staff feel better, as well as the residents who were closest to Mr. Hinkley. Each donut served six people, a local oddity that was every bit as delicious as it was unusual.

“It will be a few minutes on the sugar-free,” Grace called out apologetically as she headed into the back kitchen. “I have to make that one fresh.”

Sarah nodded and pulled her phone from her pocket, browsing with one hand and holding Lucky’s leash loosely with the other. Apparently, she had three new notifications on Reel Life.

When she clicked on the app, a video of tiny wriggling newborn pups nursing on their mother, Rita, greeted her. Peyton McIntyre and Felicity Stilton had already commented along with dozens of others who had adopted puppies from Carol Graves.

“Look, Lucky,” Sarah said, lowering the phone so the dog could see. “You have a new batch of brothers and sisters.”

Lucky smiled and winked, which probably had more to do with the gourmet dog treats behind the glass display case than with the birth of a new sibling litter.

She needed to leave a comment or Carol would worry about her. Even all these years later, she still made sure they all stayed in touch and that she got pictures of each of her grand-dogs at least once per week.

Sarah snapped a picture of Lucky in front of the bakery case and posted it as a reaction to the video. “Lucky is celebrating with his favorite treat! Congrats on the new litter!” She then added three heart emojis and snuck the phone back into her pocket.

“Here we go,” Grace said as she bustled over to the front counter. “Be careful, it’s extremely hot.”

“I’m always careful,” Sarah said with a nervous laugh. Grace, of course, had no idea how true that sentiment rang for most things in Sarah’s life. Burning her mouth on a hot pastry was the least of her worries these days.

Although Sarah lived a small and safe life, she was never short on anxiety. She knew they couldn’t go on forever like this—Lucky and her. Eventually, things would change.

Sarah would decide she wanted more, or her mother would decide for her. It was only a matter of time before all the deaths added up, became too much to bear, and then what would Sarah do with her life? Then whose memories could she hide inside?

One day at a time, she reminded herself as the warm breeze lifted her hair from her shoulders. She and Lucky trotted quickly down the sidewalk and back toward work.

First, they needed to get through today. That’s all they had to do, and then everything would be okay.

***

Finch’s heart refused to quiet. It pounded a steady beat in time with his footfalls as a nursing home aid led him down the long white hall toward the woman who believed herself to be his great aunt.

Was this all some big misunderstanding? Or was it possible that he actually did have a family after all? He didn’t know what to hope for in this scenario. If Eleanor Barton truly was his long-lost aunt, then he’d only have a family for a short while until her illness overtook her and he was alone in the world once more.

Having no idea what to expect, Finch hadn’t prepared himself for the visit at all. Perhaps that was why the smell caught him so off guard—first the stinging sensation of bleach as he sucked the lingering chemicals through his nostrils, then something musty stuck to his insides long after the cleaning solution smell faded away.

Death, Finch realized. This is what death smells like.

“She’s right in here,” his guide said with a smile, stepping aside to let Finch pass through. “Mrs. Barton,” the orderly called, keeping his feet rooted to the hallway floor. “Your grandson is here.”

“Nephew,” Finch corrected gently. “Maybe.”

“I’m not a missus, and he’s not my grandson,” the old woman corrected far less gently.

The orderly forced another smile; this one remained tight at the edges as if to keep certain choice words from escaping. “Well, I’ll just let you two get reacquainted then. Buh-bye now.”

Neither spoke until the echo of shoes slapping linoleum faded in the distance. Finch kept his eyes on the floor, but he could feel Eleanor studying him closely.

“I got your letter,” he said at last.

“About time,” the old woman said with a huff. Although she had to be at least eighty years old, her skin was still mostly smooth. Did that mean she’d lived a lifetime without feeling? No smiles, scowls, or anything else to mar her complexion? What kind of life must that have been? And was Finch already on his way to upkeeping this apparent family tradition?

No, he couldn’t get ahead of himself. Not until he knew for sure. Not until he had proof.

He cleared his throat before asking, “I don’t understand. If you’re really my great aunt, then how come I never knew you existed before?”

She shrugged as if he’d asked a simple question instead of an impossible one. “You’d have to ask your parents that.”

“I can’t. They died,” he whispered, feeling their loss all over again.

“Well, I suppose that’s for the best.”

“How could you say that? Did you even know my parents?”

Eleanor directed her attention toward the large window that overlooked a courtyard below. Her face remained impassive. “Hardly,” she answered after an unnaturally long pause. “But it wasn’t through any fault of my own.”

Finch’s eyes widened as he waited for her to tell him more.

She didn’t.

“Are you really my aunt?” he asked on the wings of a slow, tortured exhale.

“Are you really Finch Jameson?” she shot back with a lightly raised brow and a knowing glance.

“Yeah. That’s me.” How much did she know? Had she lured him out for his money? Was she intentionally toying with him? And just how much was he willing to put up with before he stormed out of there and never looked back?

Eleanor straightened in her chair and locked her eyes onto his. “Then yes, I’m your great aunt. You have her eyes, you know. The same ocean blue.”

“You mean my grandma? Nancy?” he asked hopefully. The doubts he’d brought with him to this meeting slowly ebbed away.

“Yes, they’re one in the same. Anyway, Finch…” She paused and took a long breath. “I can’t say I’m surprised at how you turned out, but I also can’t say I’m all too pleased, either.”

Well, that took a sharp turn. Perhaps no family was better than a hostile one. Maybe he should leave. “Hey, just a second… You don’t even know me.”

“Don’t I? I know enough to understand that you’re a disgrace, a failure. That people laugh at you behind your back—and probably to your face, too.” For all the strength her body lacked, Eleanor’s tongue clearly made up for it.

Finch crossed his arms and tore his eyes away from his frail bully. “But not enough to know my parents died years ago? Look, if you called me here just to mock me, then no thank you.”

Eleanor clucked out a sound midway between a sarcastic laugh and a growl. He recognized it as the same derisive snort he’d often heard his own mother make. “You flatter yourself,” she said. “You’re not here for you. You’re here for me. Now sit down and listen to what I need to say.”

“Sorry, no. Family doesn’t mean much to me, seeing as I haven’t had any for years.” He raised his voice before dropping back to a stern whisper. “I’m just fine without it, too.”

“So that’s it? I point out one universally understood truth, and you run away? No wonder you failed at business… probably failing at life, too, I’d imagine.”

“Well, at least I have one left to live,” Finch hissed, turning back toward the door, hoping to high heavens he’d never see Eleanor Barton again.

But he was stopped by an angel—an angel and her dog.

“Is everything okay here?” the woman asked. Her long blonde hair fell over her shoulders in soft California waves. Her round face was offset by bright hazel eyes and a cute, upturned nose. And her smile… her smile did funny things to Finch’s heart, which suddenly seized in his chest as if it needed to slow down to remember this moment.

Wait.

Don’t go yet.

Maybe I…

Maybe he needed to give this long-lost family member a second chance at a first impression… especially if it meant getting to spend more time in this angelic woman’s presence.

“Everything is great,” he answered at last. “Nurse…?”

“Sarah,” she said simply. “Call me Sarah.”

 

Chapter Three

Sarah had been surprised to find the orderly peeping into Ms. Barton’s room. Most of the staff avoided the cantankerous Eleanor, especially when she was having one of her off days. What was more surprising, though, was finding a good-looking stranger storming out from that very same room.

“Is everything okay?” she squeaked, nervous to be speaking with such an attractive member of the opposite sex. Sarah and love didn’t mix, had never mixed—it was why she preferred to spend all her free time with her dog instead.

“Everything is great,” he answered breathlessly, making Sarah wonder if he, too, had felt a spark upon meeting. But, of course, that thought was ridiculous. Men never noticed Sarah. At least not any younger than seventy years old.

“Nurse…?” He let his words fall away as he awaited an introduction.

“Sarah,” she told him, brushing her palm against his.

“I’m Finch. Finch Jameson.” he said, squeezing her hand for longer than was customary for a simple greeting.

“Is Ms. Barton your…?”

“Pain in the backside?” he asked with a laugh. “Yeah, it would seem so. We just met for the first time, but according to her, we’re related.”

“But you’re nothing like her,” Sarah argued, comparing the brassy senior lady with delicate features to this sandy-haired, ocean-eyed man before her.

He shrugged, but she could tell something was bothering him. He wore the evidence in the furrow of his brow, in the rapid pace of his pulse.

“Well, are you coming or going? I haven’t got all day, you know!” Eleanor called from within the room.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Finch confided in Sarah with a sigh.

Sarah decided to take a chance. Funny she thought of it as a chance when really she was just doing her job. But instead of filling out paperwork about Mr. Hinkley’s passing, she asked the handsome visitor, “Would you like me to stay with you? To help make you… her… more comfortable with talking?”

“I’d love that.” A smile lit up his entire face, making Sarah doubt even more that he bore any relation to Ms. Barton.

Sarah shook her head and breezed into the room. At least she hoped she breezed, seeing as her feet felt like they had a one-hundred-pound weights tied to them. “C’mon, Lucky,” she called cheerily. “Let’s see how Eleanor is today!”

The dog pranced across the linoleum and placed his muzzle in the old woman’s lap.

She appeared to tense for a moment before slowly beginning to run her fingers through his soft fur. Everyone loved Lucky—it was impossible not to.

She caught Finch watching her, waiting for her to break the ice in this odd situation. Sarah put on her work voice and a smile. “So this is the nephew you told me about. Is it?”

“How’d you know?” Finch asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the far wall. He seemed afraid to come too close, as if his aunt were an untamed lion rather than a sickly old woman.

“I helped her mail the letter. Besides, we have our chats every morning. Your aunt’s lived a very interesting life.”

Of all the lives Sarah tried on, she always had the most difficult time wearing Eleanor Barton’s. Here was a woman who had never been married, never gone to college, never had any children of her own, yet somehow still managed to find fault with everyone’s life but her own. Would Sarah wind up like her one day—old, alone, and ornery?

She blushed when a vision of her and Finch standing at the aisle flashed before her eyes. Oh, if only!

“Don’t patronize me, dear,” Eleanor grumbled, though her face held the promise of a smile. “You and I both know my life has been unremarkable. I’ve kept it that way on purpose.”

“Because you were scared?” Sarah asked, identifying with the resident more than she cared to admit even to herself.

“Do I seem like a shrinking violet to you? No, not scared. Just protecting those I loved most in the world. But now that they’re dead and I’m going that way soon, there’s nobody left to protect. Seems it’s time for the truth to come out at last.”

“What do you mean?” Finch asked, uncrossing his arms and drawing closer. “Do you have some kind of terrible secret?”

Eleanor waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t be so melodramatic. It’s not a good trait for a man to have.”

“Eleanor,” Sarah interrupted, “what truth needs to come out? Why did you reach out to Finch? How can he—can we—help?”

Sarah gulped down the lump that had begun to form in her throat and waited. Perhaps Eleanor Barton’s life wasn’t as dreary as she’d led everyone to believe. Perhaps she’d prove them all wrong in the end, leaving a glistening legacy behind when she went.

Perhaps…

But there was only one person who could tell them for sure.

And she seemed to have lost her voice.

***

Finch leaned back against the wall, too agitated to sit while they all waited for Eleanor to spit out her big revelation. “Well?” he prompted when the old woman still hadn’t begun her story.

She sighed and brushed out the wrinkled clothing on her lap. “There’s really no easy way to say this,” she spoke at last, fixing her eyes on the dog instead of either Finch or Sarah. “I called you here as my nephew, but you’re not really a part of my family. Not by blood.”

Sarah inhaled a sharp breath and called Lucky to her side with a quick flick of the wrist. “I thought you reached out to him because he was the only family you had left,” she said steadily. Each word came out clear and without judgment.

Finch, on the other hand, had lost his patience long ago. First, they were family, then they weren’t. What was the truth, and why had she called him here?

Eleanor sighed as if it were them who were agitating her. “Well, yes and no. We are family… of a sort.”

He couldn’t believe this, didn’t want to believe it. He hesitated briefly before asking, “Was I adopted?”

“Not you, your grandmother.”

“She was adopted,” he repeated with disbelief. Why had he never heard any of this before? And why should he believe it was true now?

Eleanor shook her head subtly. Her mouth formed an O around the word before it even slipped out. “Stolen.”

“I should go,” Sarah said, inching back toward the door. “This is obviously a private matter.”

Finch grabbed her wrist before she could fully make her escape. “Don’t,” he said as a tiny spark shot from his fingertips and zoomed straight toward his heart. “I think we both need you here. That is, if you don’t mind staying.”

Sarah sent a worried glance toward her patient, who nodded encouragingly. “Okay,” she said meekly before sinking into a chair at the edge of the room. The whole time Lucky remained glued to her side, eager to help in whatever way he could.

“My grandmother was stolen. You stole her?” he prompted, hoping Eleanor would finally explain in a way he could understand.

“Not me personally. My sister. I’d say, ‘God rest her soul,’ but there’s a very good chance she’s in the other place after what she did.”

“What did she do?” Sarah asked, her eyes glistening with curiosity or perhaps the beginnings of tears.

“It’s really quite simple, now that you know the gist of it,” Eleanor answered dismissively. “She and her husband wanted a baby but couldn’t have one. The war had just ended, and it seemed like everyone else was having babies faster than you could say ‘welcome home, soldier.’ They didn’t have the technology back then, so it was really quite easy for her to walk into the hospital by herself and walk out with a new daughter to call her own.”

Finch’s arms dropped to his side, the life kicked right out of him as the full force of Eleanor’s confession hit him in the gut. “My grandma?”

The old woman nodded and looked away again. “Your grandma.”

“How come nobody ever said anything before? Did my grandmother know? Did my mom know before…?”

“Your grandmother found out around the time she was eighteen. She never said another word after that—to any of us. As far as I know, she never spoke of the incident again.”

The rage returned with fresh strength. Who or what gave this woman the right to break apart his family back then to bring it all to his doorstep now? The worst part was he knew deep down that it was true, the doubt already swept clean away.

The incident? That’s what you’re calling it? You kidnapped her, stole her from her rightful family, her rightful life.”

Eleanor turned red beneath his blistering gaze. “Again, I didn’t have to tell you anything. I could have taken my secret to the grave, you know.”

“Then why didn’t you? Why drop this bomb on me when there’s nothing I can do about it? Do you know who my grandma’s real parents were?”

She shook her head, then pointed up at him. “No, but you’re going to find out.”

“Me?” He narrowed his eyes at her. This was no family he wanted in his life, no secret he wanted to help uncover. “What makes you think I have any desire to help you?”

“I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but I took a gamble that you’d be too curious to just walk away. It’s your legacy, after all.” She looked to Sarah and Lucky for encouragement, but both stared ahead with slightly ajar mouths.

Finch shook his head, wishing he could turn back time, throw that letter from Eleanor away the moment it had arrived. “Why do you care? Why does this even matter if all the original players are already dead?”

Her voice dropped to a murmur. “Because the kidnapping was just the start of it. Other things happened after. Bad things.

She looked so frail then, suddenly beaten down by the burden of the truth she’d been carrying on her own until that day. Still, Finch couldn’t forgive her for the trouble she’d caused his family then and was causing him now.

“Bad things is pretty vague,” he pointed out. “What happened? What am I walking into by agreeing to help you?”

Eleanor’s hands shook on top of her lap. Her breaths came out in labored puffs as she struggled with whatever it was she still needed to say.

Sarah rushed to her side and spoke soothingly in her ear.

Finch couldn’t make out the words, but when Sarah returned to her seat Eleanor seemed stronger, calmer.

“So you agree?” Sarah asked, straightening in her chair and watching as Lucky licked Eleanor’s hands and face. “You’re going to help Eleanor set things right?”

“Grant an old woman her dying wish?” Eleanor added with a sarcastic chuckle.

Finch hesitated. This was all way more than he had asked for. He still didn’t even know if the old woman had spoken the truth. His logical brain questioned every last detail—although there were precious few he’d been granted—but something deeper knew. Had always known.

“I want in, too,” Sarah said, startling him with the ferocity in her voice. “I’m going to help however I can. That is, if you’ll let me.”

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