Always the Last to Know

Chapter 21

“None of us could ever hate you,” Hank assured me, and the tone of voice he used convinced me he was telling the truth, but I couldn’t help but think about Lester. He may not hate me, but at the moment he was definitely hating on me. I needed to find out what had sucked out his happiness. For the moment though, I wasn’t going to spoil my reunion with Hank by asking after another guy. All the Merry Men were special to me and given my actions regarding them in the last six years, I felt the need to let them each know that I appreciated them.

I pulled back from Hank’s chest to look up into his face. The grin he’d been wearing ever since he sat down, giving me a hinky feeling the more he spoke about me, was still in place. I’d had a gut feeling that he was trying to tell us something without telling us, but I hadn’t been able to work it out until Ashley bluntly announced that Hank knew. And just like that all the puzzle pieces that I’d been pounding on to fit into the holes slotted in perfectly. There was still one gap missing though.

“How did you figure it out?” I asked, meeting his gaze solidly for the first time.

He shifted us both so that his right arm was wrapped around my shoulder, keeping me close to his side. “Genius over here left a facial rec search running on his computer while he went to search your cubicle,” he said, indicating Cal. “And then he got distracted by you and the pranks, so when I walked past on my way to the break room to join you all, I saw the positive match blinking on the screen.”

Inadvertently furrowing my brow, I cut my eyes to Cal. “You searched my cubicle?” I asked, feeling scandalised.

“I was suspicious,” he said defensively. “I had to get to the bottom of what you were up to. Believe me, I wouldn’t have done it if I knew you were you.”

“Really?” Ashley questioned, leaning her elbows on the table the same way Hank had earlier. Clearly, she knew these guys just as well – if not better – than I once had and had no problem calling them on their bullshit.

“I probably wouldn’t have,” Cal muttered, gazing down at his hands where they rested of the table.

Before anyone else could comment or accuse, my stomach rumbled loudly, reminding us all that while we were here for dinner we had yet to even order. The guys chuckled at the beast that was my stomach while Ash turned to Bobby and said, “I thought you were kidding about that.” Rather than reply, Bobby simply hailed a waitress and shoved Cal out of the booth so his wife could sit beside him.

~0~

“So you’ve got the reception area here,” Hank explained pointing to a small section on the blue prints laid out on the table in front of us.

It was mid morning, Wednesday of my third week back and with the trade workers finishing up this week it was up to the community outreach team to start gathering the furnishing and equipment that would be needed. While Hank was giving me a quick rundown on the layout he and Tank had come up with in case there were any last minute changes or insights I might have, Aaron, Darren and Mal were shopping for gym equipment at the right price following my suggestion early last week that the guys offer self defence lessons and a place to blow off steam. Between them they had a very specific list and a budget to work within. It didn’t seem like Ranger’s style to spare expenses, but then again, it wasn’t like Ranger to let something as monumental as me being in his presence go undetected, either. I guess I just didn’t know the man as well as I thought I did, or my leaving had done things to him that I simply could not understand at this point.

I’d worried so much about the reactions I would get from him when I eventually did return. Anger. Resentment. Disappointment. Even sadness. But not once had I thought that I could succeed in going unnoticed by him. Every time he passed though the control room that familiar tingle shimmed on the back of my neck, causing the hairs on my arms to stand on end. It was only from great self control that I managed to suppress the full body shivers that threatened to take hold of me on the odd occasion that he did happen to glance in my direction. Not once had he shown even a glimmer of recognition. Nor interest.

“Are you listening?” Hank asked, tapping his hand on the table in front of me to snap me out of my thoughts.

Shaking my head to clear out the last remnants of my confusion of Ranger, I refocused on the man in front of me. “Sorry,” I murmured. “I was -.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Hank said reassuringly. “Your attention span is actually way better than it was six years ago. It’s almost like you’re a whole different reason.” He had that easy grin on his face so I knew he was teasing me. Something I’d learned in the past week and a half that I’d never known about Hank back in my pre-Mexico days was that he was just as much a joker as Lester had been. The difference was that Lester’s tended to have a more mature rating.

“I am a different person,” I reminded him firmly, adjusting my fake glasses. Hank, more than Bobby and Cal, had been having trouble treating me like the newbie co-worker I was supposed to be. I’d assume it was because we were working more closely than with the others, but I knew it wasn’t so. Yes, Hank and I were grouped together on the same project, but I didn’t work with him every single day. I’d been rotating partners daily to ‘get me used to the day to day details of the company’ so that if push came to shove and there was an emergency, I could be called on to help out in the building. I was glad to do it, because it meant that I now had a better understanding of the processes and protocols that stood behind the decisions the men made, both in the present and six years ago when they’d come to my rescue and refused to be budged on certain matters regarding my health and safety.

Point is, while I was on the same team as Hank and needed to seek him out for details on a nearly daily basis, the time I spent with him was nothing compared to the hour to an hour and a half that I spent with Cal in the gun range every morning at nine fifteen without fail.

Hank just couldn’t keep me as Kit in his head once he found out I was me. Not that I blamed him. Kit could be boring sometimes; always determined to do things by the book, even if it meant suppressing gut instincts until it hurt, just to get official confirmation that it was the correct direction to take.

“Right. Kit,” Hank muttered under his breath, reminding himself of my assumed identity. “Anyway, as I was saying before you zoned out, this door here leads to a small medical wing. Bobby has assured me that the regular first aid items like bandaids will be in an easy to access, clearly labelled cupboard, but he’s also setting it up, thought official channels, as a free clinic. He’ll be logging hours there while Tony takes on more responsibility here.”

“That’s great!” I enthused, surprised that Bobby would entrust his sacred infirmary to anyone, let alone the bizarre, show tune singing character that was Tony Edgemont. “It’s a really good thing for the community, Trenton needs a place like this.”

Hank shrugged, taking a sip from the bottle of water he’d nabbed from the fridge earlier. “My understanding is that he’s wanted to set up a free clinic for a while now but never gotten around to it. With the community centre being constructed across the street and Tony almost fully trained over here, this is the perfect opportunity. Especially since it’s on Ranger’s dime and not his own.”

“Ranger’s okay with the extra expense?” I asked, unable to contain my natural curiosity for the moment. “I mean, with all the medical equipment Bobby’s gonna need it’s bound to cost way more than a supply of bandaids, ice packs and ace bandages,” I pointed out.

“Ranger’s made of money,” Hank countered. “You of all people should know that he’d spare nothing to help out a friend.” The set to his jaw told me he wasn’t just referring to cars and back up. Hank was trying – yet again – to get me to explain why I left beyond the Fiona-is-better-at-taking-care-of-herself-than-I-was bullshit I’d been shovelling.

“I’m not ready to talk about it,” I stated quietly, but firmly.

“I just want to help resolve the residual issues I can sense lying beneath the surface,” Hank murmured, being sure to keep his voice right down as Hal entered the break room we’d been working in. “you’re bottling all this pain and it hurts me to watch you go through it alone.”

As we locked eyes, I got the feeling that he wasn’t just referring to now. Had he picked up on my inner agony six years ago as well? Don’t be ridiculous, I thought, giving myself a mental shake. No one knew about anything that had happened that month and a half before I left. I’d clamped it all down, chaining it in the deepest recesses of my soul. Never spoke of it. Never cried over it. I put on my big girl panties and got on with life as usual. Hell, I’d only seen Hank once between that day and the night I’d decided to ditch my life, and it had only been long enough for him to hand over the keys to yet another black Rangeman SUV, and ask if there was anything else I needed. Was Hank really as empathetic as he was making himself out to be?

I didn’t have time to ask for more information regarding the pain Hank sensed and how, because at that moment Hal plopped down at the table with a sandwich and a sigh.

“You look stressed,” Hank commented to Hal. And he was right. There seemed to be tension in every single fibre of his being.

“I need to find a babysitter for Saturday,” he explained, chomping into the salad sandwich. “Everyone we would normally ask is either out of town or has plan that they simply can’t cancel.”

“Even Ella?” Hank asked.

“Wedding anniversary,” Hal sighed again. “Louis is taking her to New York for the weekend.”

“Damn,” Hank uttered under his breath. Tidying the papers we’d strewn over the table, he surreptitiously slanted me a look. I knew what he was hinting at.

“I’m available Saturday,” I announced, feeling just a little awkward. Hal was one of my favourite Rangemen, but he was currently unaware of who I really was. I didn’t want my actions to be seen as over stepping boundaries. “I mean... If you can’t find anyone else, I could do it,” I offered, barely maintaining eye contact.

“Are you sure?” Hal asked, hope shining on his face. “Can you handle kids okay? Richie can be a bit of a handful if you don’t know his triggers. And Julian is very full on.”

“I’ve handled teaching entire classrooms full of kids who don’t even speak the same language as me,” I informed him confidently. “I can handle a couple of boys for a few hours... or however long you need.”

“How does oh-nine-hundred to nineteen-hundred hours sound?” Hal asked, receiving a confused expression from me in reply. “What?” he asked worried. “Too long?”

“I don’t speak military time,” I informed him flatly.

“Oh!” Relief washed the furrow from his brow and his face lit up. “Nine in the morning to seven in the evening. It’s ten hours. I can understand if it’s too long for you. It’s a big commitment, you probably have other things you could be doing instead of chasing after a couple of snot nosed ki-.”

“Hal,” I said firmly, cutting him off. “It’s fine. I can do it. I’d be happy to. That’s why I offered. Discuss it with your wife if you need to. If she agrees, I’ll be there at oh-nine-hundred, Saturday morning.”

“Thank you so much, Kit,” he enthused, leaning across the corner of table between us to give me a quick hug, which I had no problem returning. When he pulled back, he gave me a brief, odd look before shaking his head and concentrating on his lunch. “If Eloise agrees, I’ll get the address to you later and I’ll catch up with you to discuss the boys’ particularities.”


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