Adoration

Act Four, Scene Four

Joe spent three or four more days in intensive care – he wasn't sure of the exact number as he had slept through most of them – followed by a week in a regular ward being fussed over by his parents and friends. Except for the pain, it was a mostly pleasant experience. Frank wasn't dead, Anna was safe, and Kara was not only speaking to him again, but – once she'd gotten the verbal slap-down out of her system – spent her free time sitting on the side of his bed holding his hand, eyes shining as she looked at him. The only thing disturbing his relative peace was his brother. Frank was being difficult.

"He was in here almost constantly while you were out," Chet told him. "He barely spoke to anyone. I'm not sure he was eating."

Joe shook his head. Guilt complex, he thought. No one can build them like Frank.

After he was moved to the regular ward, it seemed to Joe that Frank avoided visiting him. When questioned, Frank said he wanted their parents and Kara to have the lion's share of the visitation time. "I got to watch you sleep for days, little brother. It's time for someone else to have a turn." When he did stop by, Anna was generally with him, and Joe was surprised – but pleased – to see them holding hands.

The one thing that worried Joe was the look in his brother's eyes; they held a wary expression, as if he were expecting Joe to disappear or break into tiny pieces. While it appeared he had finally gotten some sleep – Not much, Joe thought – it didn't look like he had started eating regularly. Joe let it go for a few days, hoping Frank's analytical mind would reason himself out of the guilt, would realize it was a waste of time and energy, would figure out Joe was alive and just knock it off. Finally, Joe gave up on that optimistic dream, and told Frank he needed to let it go.

"Geez, Frank, if there'd been another way, don't you think I would have taken it? I would have much rather chucked Brian against that wall than you." He shrugged, wincing at the agony the motion caused in his left shoulder. "You just were closer, 'bro." He could feel the exhaustion starting to shut him down again but knew he needed to get out one last point. "Besides, you would have done the same for me," he managed to get out before his eyes started closing. He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a hint of a smile on Frank's face before he fell back asleep.

When his eyes opened next, he saw Frank still sitting by his bed. They were alone for the first time Joe could remember. "Are you done being an idiot," he asked, raising an eyebrow at his brother, "or do I have to yell at you some more?"

"I think we're good," Frank replied, looking marginally more like himself. "And you're right."

Joe smiled. "I'm sorry, could you say that again?"

Frank sighed. "You're right."

"Boy, it's good to hear you say that once in a while."

"Don't let it go to your head, little brother." Frank let out a long breath. "I'm just glad you're okay.


Food, Joe thought. I smell... Pancakes. He rolled onto his back and sniffed the air, the action waking him from the doze that felt almost permanent at this point. Oh, G-d. They're torturing me. He pulled the pillow out from under his head and pressed it down on his face to block the aroma. Someone's getting real food, while I'm stuck with broth and rice. Maybe if I make nice to the nurses... He sighed, realizing that probably wouldn't happen and tried to go back to sleep. Then his stomach grumbled. Guess not.

He moved the pillow and stretched gently, hissing through his teeth as pain ripped through his left side. Once it subsided, he cracked his eyes open and trying to focus in the darkness and wondering why the room was so quiet. No beeping machines, no noises from the hall. Then the memory hit. He was home, actually in his own apartment. Dr. Mueller had released him from the hospital late yesterday afternoon.

Joe put a hand to his forehead, trying to piece together details of the ride home. He remembered Frank helping him get in the car. The walk from the wheelchair to the edge of the hospital's driveway was the longest he had taken in two weeks and had left him breathless. He slept most of the way home. There was a vague recollection of his mother commenting that his sheets needed to be changed once they'd gotten him in his apartment, and his father chuckling. Someone – he wasn't sure who at this point – had helped him into bed... Then nothing. The cooking smells told him someone was in the apartment, though. Not his mother. She'd be singing or humming as she cooked.

"Frank?"

Kara's voice came from the other side of the door. "Hey, sleepyhead, you're awake. I'll be right in with breakfast." There were noises of silverware clanging on a plate and some type of liquid being poured into a glass. Then footsteps.

The door pushed open, and Joe's jaw dropped. Kara stood in the doorway clad only in one of his t-shirts, on her looking like a short dress. In her hands was a tray of food, the pancakes he had smelled. As hungry as he was, seeing Kara like this made Joe unsure of what he wanted more. His growling stomach conflicted with the sudden rush of desire he felt coursing through his body.

Kara's hair was loose, brushing just past her shoulders and framing her face. Joe's gaze traveled down her body to her bare legs, and he felt his heart beat faster. His right hand grazed the pillow on other side of the bed, his fingers finding the indentation where her head had been during the night. She had obviously been lying next to him all night, her arms wrapped around his chest, those gorgeous legs tangled up in his. He swallowed hard, suddenly finding it hard to think.

"Eyes up here, Hardy." The tray jiggled, and Joe wrenched his gaze back up to Kara's face. Her eyes held a mischievous glint. "You need more recovery time before you get to think about that."

Joe groaned. Intellectually, he knew she was right. But still...

Kara seated herself on the bed, making sure to keep the tray between them. "Breakfast time for the invalid," she said, spearing a piece of pancake. "Open wide." He complied, and she propelled the fork towards his mouth. It was the best thing he'd ever tasted, and he opened his mouth again for more. Kara's lips quirked into a smile. "You look like an oversized sparrow," she said, but she continued feeding him.

Halfway through the plate, a wave of exhaustion forced Joe back on his pillow.

"Are you all right?" Concern and worry flashed across Kara's face.

He nodded. "Just need a minute."

"Take as long as you want. I have to get something." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I'll be right back."

Joe figured he must have dozed off. When he looked up again, there was more light in the room. Kara, dressed now in jeans and a sweatshirt, sat cross-legged in the center of the bed, holding Joe's hand. He blinked. "How long was I asleep?"

"About an hour." She was smiling at him. "You sleep as much as you need to. Just keep opening those baby blues for me every now and then, okay?"

He nodded, grimacing as pain flashed across his chest.

"Do you need a painkiller?" She started to stand, but he kept hold of her hand.

"Not yet. I'd like to stay awake longer than five minutes this time. I've missed this." He sighed. "Be a lot more pleasant if I hadn't been shot." He let go of her hand and propped himself back up so he could see her better.

Kara's eyes closed. She took a deep breath, then opened them again. "Joe," her voice was barely a whisper, "what do you remember about it?"

He cocked his head to the side, showing her a lopsided smile. "It hurt."

She pressed her lips together and turned her head to the side, not looking at him. "I'm serious."

"So am I." He raised his right hand and cupped her chin, noting her eyes stayed turned away. "I remember you ordering me to stay with you. I remember worrying you had been hurt." He turned her face towards his. He could feel her breath on his hand. She was trembling. "I remember telling you I love you." She didn't respond, staying still as stone, and his heart sank. He had been so sure she had felt the same way. Of course, that was before his various acts of stupidity.

He cleared his throat. "Kara, it's okay if you don't feel the same way about me. I just want to be with you." He let out a breath. "I may be thoughtless sometimes, and scattered, and... Anyway, you need to know I will never hurt you intentionally. I just need to work harder on my organizational skills so I don't hurt you again unintentionally." There was still no reaction. Concerned, he tilted his head to the side, trying to get her to look him in the eyes. "Kara?"

A tear coursed down her cheek, splashing on Joe's fingers. "I've never been so scared in my life," she whispered. "I was terrified I was going to lose you, too." Joe held his breath, not knowing what to say. "It feels like I lose everyone I love."

"Everyone you..." His voice faltered.

"When Dr. Mueller said we could see you, I couldn't make myself go in. I was afraid..." Another tear followed the first.

Understanding lit up Joe's face. "You love me."

"Yes." She finally turned to look at him, tears drying on her cheeks. "I love you."

He kissed her, gently at first, then with more passion, pulling her close to his right side and holding her there until he couldn't breathe, his lungs burning, his heartbeat a jackhammer in his chest. He gently lowered her back to the other side of the bed. "I see why... not allowed... to do this... until I'm healed," he said, struggling to get the words out.

"Are you all right?"

He nodded as he gulped air, pulling her back toward him, holding her close against his side. "Don't worry," he said, when his breathing eased. "I'm not that easy to get rid of. Ask Frank, he'll tell you in detail." She laughed and loosened his hold as she shifted to sit up again.

"Oh," she said, stretching an arm to the bottom of the bed. "I got you something. A welcome home present." She handed him a package, then wiped her face with the back of her hand.

"What is it?"

"Open it." She grinned when he rolled his eyes at her.

Gingerly, Joe moved his left arm toward the box, then ripped the paper and threw it onto the floor. "It's a cell phone." He gave her a quizzical look. "I have a cell phone."

"Not like this," she said. "This one's special." She sighed at his blank stare. "This one's a smart phone."

Joe shook his head. "And?"

Kara rolled her eyes back at him. "And, it has a calendar. And, I've linked it to my account so I can access the calendar." He stared at her. "And, it's programmed to send you reminders of important events that are on that calendar." His eyes widened. "I figure since I plan on keeping you around a long time, I'd better get used to reminding you where you need to be when. As long as you remember to keep it charged, this," she indicated the box with a wave of her head, "should keep you out of trouble, or at least some trouble."

"I guess it all depends on what kind of trouble you're talking about," he said, reaching for her again.

She jumped off the bed in one fluid motion. "Not that kind. Not now."

"In that case, I don't suppose you have any of those pancakes left, do you?" She nodded. "Good. Maybe you could get some, and I can tell you all about the trouble I have planned for the leftover maple syrup. Once I'm healed, I mean."

Kara lifted her chin. "Sounds like something we'll have to put in the calendar." She left to get the pancakes.

Joe smiled.


Opening night was standing room only. Frank almost couldn't believe his eyes when he entered the theater and saw the number of people in attendance. Pretty good for a show that almost didn't make it, he thought. The production had come to a screeching halt the day of the party, the cast and crew who had been at the house quickly spreading the news of Brian's actions and Milton being dragged away in handcuffs. Rehearsals had come to a standstill while the remaining producers discussed the show's viability. Once the news hit the public, the response had been immediate. Adoration was suddenly the must-see show of the season, and tickets were selling like crazy, the box office having trouble keeping up with the phone and Internet orders. I guess all publicity really is good publicity, Frank mused.

As Mary Magdalene, Anna owned the stage, mesmerizing the audience with her performance. The entire theater quieted whenever she walked on stage, and at the end of the play, she was given a standing ovation. As the cheering continued, Frank left his seat and walked briskly towards the stage crew's entrance, a large bouquet of daisies in his hand. Three feet into the backstage area, a hand grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back.

"No audience members backstage." A woman's voice came from behind him.

Recognizing the voice as Cheli's, Frank turned to face her, holding his hands out in front of him. "Delivery for Ms. Gold," he said, forcing his voice back into John's register.

The props mistresses' eyes narrowed as she examined him. "So this is what you really look like?" she said after a minute's scrutiny, the barest hint of a smile on her face. Frank nodded. "I liked the other look better. Made you look cutting edge." She paused, and shook her head mournfully. "I doubt Dwayne would be interested in you now. Too normal. Too bad."

"I'm pretty sure he's not my type," Frank said in his own voice, watching Cheli's startled expression with satisfaction.

"Oh, you're good," she said, smiling. She looked at the flowers in Frank's hands. "I'd tell you where her dressing room is, but you already know. She should be done changing now, John." She smiled at him, then put a hand back out. "Hold on, is John your real name?"

"No, it's Frank. Frank Hardy."

"Like that other boy?" Cheli's eyes widened.

Frank smiled. "He's my brother. We're private detectives."

Cheli made a clucking sound with her tongue. "And I thought actors were strange." She shook her head, pausing for a moment. "Frank? Take good care of that girl. She's special."

He nodded. "I know."


"You're sure you want to do this?" It was a Monday morning about month after the play had opened. He and Anna stood in the back yard of his parents' house, Frank carrying an oversized shoe-box, Anna clasping a box of matches in her hands.

"Yes." Her voice was small but firm. "The police said with the notes and the photos they took at the greenhouse there was more than enough evidence." She took a deep breath. "I need to do this."

Frank nodded and set the box down on a stone fire pit. He removed the cover, exposing the photos and fabric from Brian's lair in the greenhouse, then stepped back.

Anna stood for a moment, staring at the contents of the box, her dark eyes unfathomable. Then with a swift motion, she lit a match and flung it into the box, following it by three more.

The photos caught fire first, their edges curling and blackening as the flames grew. Slowly the fire ate away at the costume, then licked the sides of the box, until a small fire burned in the pit, consuming the contents. They stood and watched until nothing was left but a pile of ashes, Frank standing a few steps behind Anna, giving her a small measure of privacy as she kept her silent vigil. When the fire was out, Frank poured a bucket of water on the pit to quell any lingering sparks.

"Are you okay?" He put a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"I need a few minutes." Her face was impassive.

Frank nodded. "I'll be in the house if you need me."

She didn't turn as he walked away.

He stood by the window watching her for over an hour before she came in the house, shivering slightly. He enfolded her in his arms and held her. "What can I do?" he asked. Anna shook her head. "Anna, please. How can I help you?"

"This is good," she said, still shaking.

He led her over to the sofa, and held her, providing what comfort he could until she relaxed in his embrace. They sat in silence for a while, Anna resting her head on Frank's shoulder.

"What will you do now?" he asked.

Anna shifted so she could see Frank's face. "I've been offered a movie role. It's a small, independent film." She paused. “It's in France."

"Really? Are you going to take it?" Frank worked at keeping his expression impassive.

"I need the money." She sighed. "Pierre's working on paying back what he took from me, but for now I need to take anything I'm offered."

Frank nodded. "How long will you be gone?"

She shrugged. "Six months? I'm not sure." She looked up at him, her eyes searching his face. "Does it matter?"

"It matters to me." He brushed the side of face with his fingers. "More than you can know." He leaned in and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"Not fair," Anna jokingly complained. "You're using my lines against me."

Frank raised his eyebrows. "And it was fair for you to use them to get me to kiss you?"

Anna had the grace to blush. "I don't have a lot of experience with relationships. I couldn't think of another way to let you know I was interested in you."

"So you let me think I assaulted you instead."

Her blush deepened. "Well, if you hadn't apologized, I wouldn't have thought..."

Frank pulled her close for another kiss. When they separated, he tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "So, what happens when you come back?"

"I see what other jobs come up."

"Back in California?"

Anna looked up at him through her eyelashes. "In New York if I can. I was renting in L.A., and here I don't have to." Frank looked at her in surprise. "Pierre turned over the deed to the apartment to me. Now it really is my home." She smiled. "I haven't had a real home in a long time. It'll be nice." She paused for a moment, her cheeks coloring again. "I can only think of one thing that would make it better."

"And that is?"

"If I know you'll be here when I come back."

Frank smiled. "I think that could be arranged. I might even be able to swing a weekend or two in Paris."

Anna's eyes shone, and she leaned up for another kiss. Frank was happy to comply.

The sound of something heavy hitting the floor made them both jump.

"Franklin John Hardy! I expect this kind of behavior from your brother, not from you." Gertrude Hardy stood in the doorway, a shocked expression on her face, a suitcase on its side at her feet.

"Aunt Gertrude, we weren't expecting you until tomorrow." Frank crossed the room and picked up the luggage.

"I can see that," she replied. "And this is?"

Frank put his arm out, and Anna came to stand in its circle. "Aunt Gertrude, this is my girlfriend, Anna Goldstein. Anna, my aunt."

The older woman stood sizing up the younger one for a long minute, then turned to Frank. "It's about time," she said to him. "Now when you're done kissing her, bring my case up to my room." Then she turned and marched up the stairs.

Anna stared after her in awe. "Is she always like that?"

Frank nodded. "Pretty much, and it upsets her when we don't do what she says." He put his arms around Anna. "So, I guess I better kiss you again. After all, I can't finish what I haven't started." He put his arms around her and drew her close, smiling all the while.

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