Sitting in the waiting and watching for someone to come in with some news was always the worst part of Jake Ballard’s volunteer position as leader of a support group for men and women who were clinically depressed and suicidal, but this was the worst experience in his records. This time, he knew he was at least partially responsible for what had happened.
It was poetic justice that he had been the one to find Reggie this time – curled up in the fetal position on the floor of her uncle’s living room, her hand clutching the razor blade she had used to try to deliver the fatal cut. The right side of her face had been lying in the pool of her blood, making it easy to believe she was already gone, and her hair was a sticky clump in the mess. Her skin had been unbelievably cold to the touch, and he had thought it was too late until he had pressed his fingers to the pulse point at her neck to find that pulse that was almost too faint to find. Everything after that was a frightening blur, and there were only two things he could be sure of. One was that all of the odds were against her making it this time, and the other was that she would not have done this if it had not been for him.
In the months Jake had known Regina DiRuocco, all the expressions on her face had spoken of long and silent agonies. After all of the things she had told him, it was difficult for him to understand how she could still be here, and that knowledge only made the weight of guilt rest heavier on his shoulders. She had trusted him, and he knew she felt like he had betrayed her trust. Anyone else would have argued that he had done nothing wrong, but the thing was… he was not anyone else, and he felt like he had betrayed her, too.
There was no reason for this to have happened – no good reason, at any rate. It was good old Carolyn pushing the issue, thinking she was doing it for Jake’s own good. Typical Carolyn behavior, but she would have no idea what the consequences would be this time around.
The pager at his waist buzzed its vibration mode buzz, but he ignored it. More likely than not, it was Carolyn, the root of this particular problem, and she was the last person he wanted to talk to right now – even if she was his fiancée. Deep in his heart, he knew she was part of why Reggie was at this point now, and that she would have little sympathy for Reggie. Ever since Reggie and Carolyn had met, Carolyn had labeled Reggie a threat and stated that she would do whatever she felt was necessary to take out that threat. At the very least, she would classify this as an attempt on Reggie’s part to come between them, not caring in the least about how badly off Reggie was, and Jake did not want to think about what the worst could be. His imagination was more than active enough to come up with something close to what the reality would be.
Reggie’s uncle – who was now also her legal guardian – sat beside Jake, his expression almost mirroring Jake’s because he had been fast on Jake’s heels in discovering Reggie in the first place. Likely, he was thinking about how he could have missed the danger signs this time, wondering how he could have prevented this. There was no way the man could know Reggie had fallen back; Reggie had simply been going through this long enough to mask all the obvious warning signs. This time, she had done it well enough to keep everything hidden from everyone until it was too late for anyone to stop her.
“Are you going to answer that?” Charlie Eastman looked down at the pager pointedly.
“Right now, I’m about as likely to answer my pages as you are to call Reggie’s mother,” Jake snapped back. He knew Charlie was not going to make that call unless Reggie did not come through, because Charlie and Jake both knew what the reaction would be. Since they believed the woman was at the root of Reggie’s problems now, both were loathe to bring her in. All the woman could do was make the situation right now worse. Just like Carolyn – only Charlie had no idea about that. Yet.
“That’s the fourth time you’ve gotten a page in the past hour – you should at least see who it is.”
Jake recognized Charlie’s tone immediately – the man wanted to be alone for a little while. Respecting that need for privacy at his point, he nodded and slowly shoved himself up to his feet. “I’ll go to the chapel – say a few prayers with my mother.”
Jake did not look back as he exited, and he doubted that Charlie had looked up to see how far he had gone. The man had enough to deal with, and was not going to attach any more importance to Jake’s departure than it was absolutely necessary to expend energy on.
Just outside of the waiting room, Jake stopped to check his pages, ignoring the reactions of the people passing by who saw his bloodstained clothes because it was far from important what anyone thought of his presence right now. Reggie was the main focus here, not him. After all, it was her blood on his clothes.
Every single page in his pager’s memory was from Carolyn, and he deleted them all without batting an eye. She would still be there when all of this was over – she had no reason to be gone. Reggie, on the other hand, might not be, and she needed all the support she could get. He would worry about Carolyn when there was time, because there was nothing worth expending the time or energy to worry about when it came to her.